Chicago Blackhawks Icing Many Regulars Tonight Against Columbus

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 17: Jonathan Toews
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 17: Jonathan Toews /

Preseason game No. 3 is at hand for the Chicago Blackhawks tonight as they host the Columbus Blue Jackets, and we now know the roster for the home team

Do you want Chicago Blackhawks hockey? Do you need Chicago Blackhawks hockey? Well, there’s a preseason game tonight at the United Center, so if you fall into those two categories, you should try watching this contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Blackhawks have wailed on the Blue Jackets (starting a number of NHL regulars) and Red Wings (not so much) in two preseason games thus far, winning by a combined score of 11-3. Coach Joel Quenneville is rolling out a lot of familiar faces tonight after going heavy on minor leaguers in the team’s first game while opting for more NHL regulars in the second.

Let’s take a look at tonight’s roster, courtesy the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine:

So, first thing is first: Jonathan Toews is back. The captain probably would have played Thursday against Detroit, but was sidelined with an illness. So he makes his preseason debut, and it’s no surprise what line he’ll be part of. Let’s go back to Hine for the morning skate’s forward lines:

Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Alex DeBrincat-Nick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Patrick SharpArtem AnisimovJohn Hayden

Tomas JurcoTanner Kero-Alexandre Fortin

This is certainly an interesting group. Among the forwards, it leaves Ryan Hartman, Tommy Wingels and Jordin Tootoo in the press box, should these lines be run out for the game.

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More on the forwards

Give me a second to spitball here.

I haven’t been on or off the DeBrincat hype train, really. I’m enjoying watching him in camp and waiting to see how Q opts to use him. Given that he has not only no NHL experience but also no AHL experience, I don’t necessarily see this as a Daniel Carcillo playing over Saad position. But maybe DeBrincat makes himself irreplaceable right off the bat.

Anyway, let’s go ahead and say that second line actually starts the regular season as a unit. Can you imagine, then, a third line of Sharp-Anisimov-Hartman and a fourth of Jurco-Kero-Hayden?

While there’s isn’t necessarily a shutdown unit there, like Q has deployed in the past (I’d guess the first and fourth lines would take the tougher assignments in my scenario), from a scoring perspective, this group could alleviate a lot of offseason fears I and others have had.

I’ve been particularly concerned the Blackhawks were going to fill their bottom six with Sharp, Kero and whatever they could find by the side of the road. But those six guys I mentioned above making up the bottom six would not be a problem: It’d be legitimate depth.

It’s way too soon to be guessing about that, though. DeBrincat could easily start the 2017-18 season at the AHL level, and that may well be best for his professional development. But these lines today have got me thinking there could be reason for legit optimism very soon.

Moving to the defense, goaltenders

A point of interest for me with tonight’s roster lies on defense, and that is Jan Rutta. This will be his third preseason game, making him the only Blackhawks blueliner to take part in all three of the exhibitions so far.

I’m going to reference this tweet from the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus before talking more about Rutta:

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So, I don’t think Rutta keeps seeing preseason action because the Blackhawks are trying to decide if he should be on the opening night roster or not. There’s little to no doubt in my mind he will be. But I really think they’re trying to figure out who he plays best with as a partner.

Duncan Keith is an interesting option. Both Keith and Rutta are offensively inclined from the back end, so I’m not sure which one would be asked to cover for the other one roving up the ice. Keith has a bum knee, and Rutta is 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds.

I’d personally be curious to see Rutta play more with Michal Kempny. Rutta is a right-handed shot, Kempny is a lefty and their styles (not to mention both being Czech) would like play well off each other. Kempny is going to cover for the flighty Forsling tonight, while we get to see Ville Pokka’s preseason debut in what could be his last chance to crack a Blackhawks roster.

Corey Crawford will get tonight off, as Anton Forsberg and J.F. Berube will share the net. Berube has yet to play this preseason, so I’m sure he’ll get some rope. Forsberg had a very solid showing against Columbus on Tuesday, while Crow and Collin Delia split net duties Thursday.

Next: Distinguishing Want Versus Need With DeBrincat

Overall, there is quite a bit of intrigue to look at with the Blackhawks tonight, despite them icing a number of NHL regulars. A Saturday night preseason game might not draw as well as some other events, but for the hockey starved, you might not want to miss it.