Question 1: My short list would include Nick Schmaltz, Brandon Saad and Jan Rutta. Schmaltz was impressive throughout camp and to begin the season; it would have been difficult not to choose him if he had remained healthy.
His skating has improved by leaps and bounds, and that speed injected some real life into Blackhawks’ second line. Unfortunately, his injury in Game 2 has shortened the sample size.
Saad, too, came out flying. He made it obvious with his play just how pleased he was to be in Chicago. His addition has transformed the first line into a force.
That said, I’m going to go with the rookie Rutta. In this young season, he has looked like anything but a rookie; he has quietly been Blackhawks’ best defenseman to date, in my opinion.
Question 2: A very difficult question so early in the season. For the time being, I would be tempted to keep Brent Seabrook with Duncan Keith, but I won’t be at all surprised if Jan Rutta or Connor Murphy ends up in the No. 2 spot before the end of the season. Murphy is still a bit of an unknown for me. I like his physicality, but I’m not sure Q is too keen on him or that style.
I was disappointed in Gustav Forsling in training camp and to begin the season. In fact, I questioned why he wasn’t sent to Rockford, but he has stepped it up and I thought he was having his best game as a Blackhawk in the last outing, until his gaffe led to a Wild goal. Q obviously likes the kid and seems willing to give him a long leash, which should pay off in the long run.
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That leaves one more spot. Assuming the team stays healthy, that spot would be Michal Kempny’s to try and keep. He has good wheels and I think his offensive potential is untapped. But he’s a gambler, which is not necessarily Quenneville’s cup of tea; I think that tendency is what found Kempny sitting in the press box for a good part of last season, so we’ll see.
I might add that I think the Blackhawks’ defensive core is very much on trial. The Marian Hossa LTIR means there is cap space available, hence offering the possibility to acquire a veteran if ’Hawks’ management feels it is in their best interest.
Question 1: Most surprising ’Hawk has been Jan Rutta. He’s shown he can play both sides of the puck and has four points (2G, 2A) and is a plus-6 in the first five games while averaging nearly 19 minutes of ice time. I originally feared he would be like Michal Kempny, where it would take some time to adjust, but he has fit right on. The defense was the biggest question heading into this season.
Question 2: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Jan Rutta, Gustav Forsling, Connor Murphy, Michal Kempny.
2a — Keith–Rutta. I’d stick Rutta up with Keith so Keith can guide him along while on the ice.
2b — Forsling–Seabrook. Same reason as above. Forsling can learn from Seabrook on the ice.
2c — Kempny–Murphy. I would keep them as the third pairing. Keep some of the pressure off of them to learn the system, although Kempny has been here for a year, and Murphy in the league for three. I think they both need help, but are worthy enough to stay on that last pairing.
On the bubble would be Cody Franson. Depending on who is struggling, banged up or needing a day off, Franson can fill in.