Chicago Blackhawks’ DeBrincat Up, Hartman Down In New Lines

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 14: Alex DeBrincat
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 14: Alex DeBrincat /

The Chicago Blackhawks unveiled new forward lines and defensive pairings Thursday at a morning skate, and there are some interesting changes

It’d be difficult for Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to stick with the forward lines and defensive pairings he’s trotted out for recent games. The team just hasn’t looked good, even in its wins, and getting rolled in a 4-2 loss at Vegas on Tuesday was apparently the final straw.

At today’s morning skate, ahead of Friday’s tilt against Nashville, the Blackhawks unveiled some new lines and pairings:

All four forward lines have one new member, while the defensive pairings have been all mixed up. Let’s work through what we’re seeing here and gauge how much success this might (or might not) bring the Blackhawks.


First line

Many have been waiting for the moment Alex DeBrincat plays on the same line as Patrick Kane, as he did in the preseason with Nick Schmaltz between. These lines do not offer us that.

Instead, DeBrincat flips to right wing in place of Richard Panik on the top line, grouping with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. I’m not sure this first line really needed to be broken up, as it was the only one with all three members having some decently consistent offensive success so far.

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But it’ll be interesting to see how playmakers in Saad and DeBrincat work with a typically solid finisher in Toews. The captain was getting space and time brought to him by having two power forwards on his line in Saad and Panik. That won’t be the case here, as this first line has become a lot more skill-based.

It’s clear Q sees DeBrincat being brought down by slower, less skilled linemates, so he’s giving the youngster a shot with some more high-end talent. Why it’s not with Kane and Schmaltz remains to be seen, and that certainly could still happen.

Second line

The second line now has Panik in place of Ryan Hartman. So you’ve basically traded a power forward in Hartman for a stronger power forward in Panik, who has had a little more consistent success on the offensive end this season.

I don’t mind Panik playing alongside the smaller, shiftier Schmaltz and Kane. It could actually work out well, so long as Panik wins board battles, clears space, gets to the net and doesn’t overthink things when he has the puck (AKA constantly trying to pass to his linemates instead of taking shots himself).

Third line

That third line probably isn’t going to get a whole lot better, unfortunately. John Hayden moves fine for his size and has decent offensive potential when paired with the right linemates. Patrick Sharp can offer some help, while Artem Anisimov cannot.

I think the Blackhawks want this to be a complementary scoring line, but it’s going to be a group that’s scary for Blackhawks fans to see on the ice against faster competition.

Fourth line

The fourth line is still that grinder, hard forecheck line with Hayden flipping for Hartman. I think Hartman has more offensive talent/upside than Hayden, but we know Hartman has no problem playing a more rugged game. I don’t expect this fourth line’s mission to change much.

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  • I’m a little surprised Tanner Kero isn’t getting a look, as he paired with Hartman could actually make for a glimpse of complementary scoring while also keeping the grinder element in play. That could be a move Q makes in time, but it seems more likely Kero would slot in for Anisimov these days.


    First pairing

    This is something that needed to happen right away. Duncan Keith and Jan Rutta have far and away been the two best defensemen for the Blackhawks thus far.

    I think they play off each other well enough. Rutta will not bog down Keith in the defensive end, thus allowing Keith’s puck-moving, quarterback-type playing aspects to shine. Rutta has been generally solid in his positioning at both ends of the ice, so this is a responsible enough first pairing that can actually generate some offense, too.

    Second pairing

    I don’t want to be overly cruel, but this is not a good pairing. It’s destined to fail unless given extremely cushy zone starts.

    Brent Seabrook looks like he’s carrying a second Brent Seabrook on his back, while Gustav Forsling appears to be skating into other time zones most of his shifts. It’s the aware but slow paired with the mobile but unsure.

    While opposites may play well off each other in cases, just because Seabrook is aware doesn’t mean he’s been positionally sound this season. His lack of speed has been a huge reason for that.

    So you have two guys who can’t seem to get into appropriate defensive positions, for different reasons, playing on the same pairing. Not to mention Forsling’s desire to jump in offensively, paired with Seabrook’s inability to cover for that, could lead to some disasters.

    I just can’t imagine this lasting long. I realize Q doesn’t want to give up on Forsling too quickly, and I’m not suggesting you abandon the kid. But a game off here and there wouldn’t hurt. Michal Kempny has been so-so this season, but he and Seabrook played well off each other in 2016-17. Try that out again.

    Third pairing

    This is … interesting. Kempny and Connor Murphy would be a pairing I’d dub “The Doghouse Bros,” and I also can’t imagine it lasting long. But that’s more so because Q will have one of them riding the pine by Saturday’s game in Colorado.

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    To be fair, Q isn’t being unreasonable. As I said above, Kempny has been so-so, while Murphy has been hit-and-miss. The Vegas game was a definite miss, as he was on the ice and suspect for a pair of Knight goals.

    On the surface, Kempny can move the puck with his feet and passing while Murphy can play more of a defensive style. So this pairing’s survival will rely on two things: Kempny doing better moving the puck, and Murphy doing better in his own zone.

    The Blackhawks would certainly benefit from both of these things happening, regardless of how long the pairing lasts. But don’t be surprised if Jordan Oesterle on the left or Cody Franson on the right is inserted into this pairing by Saturday.


    In general, I think the forward lines are something I could get behind. While DeBrincat is on the wrong wing and the third line is still suspect, I think these groups should lead to better puck possession and more offensive chances, two huge issues for Chicago of late.

    On defense, I really don’t know if there’s a way to be satisfied right now. Q seems to see what many of us do: pairings that haven’t clicked. Maybe this is the right combination, maybe not. I’ll hope for the best, but that second pairing is going to scare me most every time it hops the boards right now.

    Next: Kane, Keith Solid In Blackhawks Hot And Not

    As for the goaltenders, Corey Crawford is slated to get the start against the Predators, which would indicate Anton Forsberg will go against Colorado. Godspeed to both of them.