Chicago Blackhawks’ Team Speed Can Get Boost From AHL

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29: Laurent Dauphin
SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29: Laurent Dauphin /

After flying out of the gate against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, the Chicago Blackhawks have slowed down noticeably — but it doesn’t have to be quite this way

The first two games of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2017-18 season saw the team score 15 goals in victories against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. The team seemed to be flying around the ice, overwhelming a pair of 2017 playoff teams.

Sure, both of these teams were coming off a game the night before, but a major concern for the Blackhawks coming into this season was its team speed. So this was a positive development, as it appeared that worry could be overblown.

Then Nick Schmaltz got hurt, and the Blackhawks followed his injury with two brutal possession games where it looked like they were getting dragged around the ice by Toronto (a fast team) and Montreal (not so much). Things didn’t look a whole lot better last night against Minnesota, despite the Blackhawks winning the possession battle and having last change.

So, one of the Blackhawk Up writers (either Aaron Goldschmidt or Keith Schultz) posted this from the BU Twitter today:

I’d like to address this very important question today.

It’s not all about Schmaltz

The Blackhawks don’t merely look slow because Schmaltz is sidelined by injury. No, it doesn’t help, as he’s one of the team’s fastest players. But it’s not like the team went from looking quick to looking sluggish just because one guy is out.

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In reality, the Blackhawks aren’t a fast team. While they claimed to have worked on that issue in the offseason, I think they addressed physicality more than speed. I’ve written about this before, but the Blackhawks’ offense looking unstoppable in the first two games kind of put it on the backburner to start this season.

Now the issue is back front and center. So I think it’s appropriate to look at each skater on the active roster and rate them by speed:

Speedy/moves well: Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Nick Schmaltz, Gustav Forsling, Michal Kempny

Moderate speed/moves moderately well: John Hayden, Tanner Kero, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews, Cody Franson, Duncan Keith, Jan Rutta

Slower/does not move well: Artem Anisimov, Lance Bouma, Ryan Hartman, Patrick Sharp, Tommy Wingels, Connor Murphy, Brent Seabrook

Uncertain: Jordan Oesterle (I don’t think I’ve seen enough of his play to judge him)

This is just my estimation, but I don’t feel like there’s a massive amount of room for argument or adjustment here. Overall, the Blackhawks are still a slower team despite their offseason moves.

Now, with Schmaltz out, we’re looking at roughly five guys out of 20 active/healthy skaters who actively help the team from a speed perspective. Everyone else is more so even or a detriment in that regard. That’s one reason why Schmaltz’s absence has been so noticeable of late.

Solution: Look to the AHL

Thing is, the Blackhawks don’t have to be a slower team. I don’t think there’s a way for them to reach Toronto/Edmonton levels of speed right now, but they can at least improve in the department.

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There’s always the option of adding someone at the trade deadline, and I’d lean toward general manager Stan Bowman looking for some addition on the defensive end that could improve team speed. Ultimately, Keith’s speed is hinging closer to “does not move well,” while Forsling and Kempny are more “moves the puck well” than “moves quickly.”

At forward, however, the Blackhawks need only look at their AHL team, the Rockford IceHogs, if they wish to improve their speed. And I think there are two feasible options to help: Vinnie Hinostroza and Laurent Dauphin.

Maybe there are some other quick guys on the Hogs as well, but these two are the only ones who are close to NHL-ready and who also offer more speed.

Hinostroza’s speed is his well-documented best attribute. Likely the reason he didn’t make the opening night roster despite how quick he is centers around not being as strong with his on-ice vision and shooting prowess.

Meanwhile, Dauphin has shown he can move the puck well in the mold of a Marcus Kruger. I’ve been of the opinion Dauphin will be with the Blackhawks by February, but I think he needs to come up sooner. Dauphin can skate his way out of trouble and into scoring chances while also serving a flip-the-ice role. That’s a win-win.

I think Dauphin for Bouma is an easy swap to make. As for getting Hinostroza in, I’d say the Blackhawks could either move Oesterle or Wingels to make space.

Unless the Blackhawks actually plan to use Oesterle at the NHL level, he’ll probably be back in the AHL (though he isn’t waiver-exempt) sooner rather than later anyway. And Wingels hasn’t brought a whole lot to the table, other than being a fourth-line center while Schmaltz is out.

Next: 5 Thoughts Following 5-2 Loss To Wild

Regardless, I think the Chicago Blackhawks need to do something sooner rather than later to improve their team speed. Maybe the Blackhawks’ improved physicality will help down the line, but ultimately, their lack of speed was more problematic last season. That’s what needs to be rectified now.