Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Quarter-Season Report Cards Led By Crawford, Rutta

By Kirk Bennett
RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 11: Chicago Blackhawks Defenceman Jan Rutta (44) during warmups of the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Chicago Blackhawks on November 11, 2017, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 11: Chicago Blackhawks Defenceman Jan Rutta (44) during warmups of the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Chicago Blackhawks on November 11, 2017, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. (Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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I can hardly believe the NHL has reached the first-quarter mark of the 2017-18 season, which means it is time for Chicago Blackhawks report cards. Reminds me of my school days where many students, but not all, dreaded this day.

Corey Crawford: A

Corey Crawford is at the top of his class. His consistency and stellar play at key times is one of the bright spots in the first six weeks of the season for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Crawford’s save percentage of .933 places him tied for second among NHL netminders. He sported back-to-back shutouts to begin November and was the primary reason for a handful of Chicago wins in this young season.

Jan Rutta: A

The Czech defenseman has been everything GM Stan Bowman was hoping for and more. He has been Chicago’s best rearguard at both ends of the ice and has averaged close to 20 minutes in ice time per game. It seems only a matter of time before Rutta is playing on the top pair in Chicago.

Gustav Forsling: B+

Forsling’s play is much improved from the defenseman we saw out of training camp. He has the occasional weak moments in front of Crawford, but he has come a long way this season, especially when it comes to handling the physicality of the NHL.

His confidence is growing, he is taking charge of play on the ice and has frequently joined the offensive attack in recent games. In my opinion, he has just scratched the surface in realizing his potential.

Artem Anisimov: B+

Coming off a high-ankle sprain suffered last spring, Artem Anisimov struggled out of training camp in early October, especially with his foot speed. Those types of injuries are typically slow to heal, as was seemingly the case for the big Russian, who isn’t considered speedy at the best of times.

The centerman has regained his offensive touch, which was on full display last Wednesday when he scored a natural hat trick in a 6-3 win over the New York Rangers.

Alex DeBrincat: B+

The highly touted rookie has surprised a lot of people this season, especially in his play without the puck. Offensively he has shown glimpses of the sniping ability he is known for, but those chances are coming more often as he transitions his game to the NHL.

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  • Coach Joel Quenneville has resisted playing the rookie winger in a top-six role, but that isn’t likely to last long. DeBrincat has found a home in Chicago. It is only a matter of time before he becomes a permanent fixture in a top-six role and a powerplay presence on the first unit.

    Nick Schmaltz: B

    Those who have followed Nick Schmaltz in his amateur career can attest to his ability to raise his game each time he has moved up a level. In his sophomore year as a pro, the North Dakota product is showing the same trait playing for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Schmaltz’s ability to make plays at top speed is a special talent that highlights his game. If the coaching staff can instill in him the shoot-first mentality, he is destined to be a star in this league.

    Tommy Wingels: B-

    As a fan, I must admit that I rolled my eyes when ‘Hawks acquired Tommy Wingels in the offseason. However, at the one-quarter mark in this season, Wingels has proven to be a solid contributor as a bottom-six forward and regular penalty killer. He brings some grit and physicality that has been noticeably missing from the fourth-line center position.

    Anton Forsberg: B-

    Not unexpectedly, the Blackhawks’ backup goalie has only six starts to date with his new team. Playing behind Crawford is never an easy task. When healthy, Crawford is always the workhorse. Though his numbers aren’t great, Forsberg has been pretty steady when called upon.

    Brandan Saad: B-

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    Brandan Saad’s return to the Chicago Blackhawks started with a bang but offensively has fizzled somewhat since. The Manchild continues to play a solid 200-foot game, however, and is the anchor on the Toews line in this young season.

    Duncan Keith: B-

    I’m probably underrating Duncan Keith, as is the tendency for most observers. Duncs does so many of the subtle things right. He has detail in his play that often goes undetected, but you can bet that Coach Quenneville notices.

    John Hayden: B-

    John Hayden is a versatile player with the ability to play center or wing and whose work ethic is second to none. He has adapted well to the NHL game right out of Yale, where he was team captain.

    At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, the big winger can punish the opposition, and he doesn’t hesitate to take the puck to the net. His numbers are modest, but I like his potential and his leadership qualities.

    Richard Panik: C+

    Speaking of versatility, Richard Panik is probably the closest Chicago has as a replacement for Marian Hossa. He has been a bit snakebitten on the scoreboard, but (like Hossa) his game involves much more than numbers.

    Jonathan Toews: C+

    Jonathan Toews is having some issues with his finish, but he has the jump back in his game this year. He and his linemates have dominated in possession and have shown excellent work ethic. The goals will come to Toews and his wingers if they continue to play like they have in the first 20 games.

    Patrick Kane: C+

    The moment the Blackhawks traded Artemi Panarin in the offseason, the questions began on how it would affect Patrick Kane. As everyone knows, Panarin and Kane had developed some unbelievable chemistry in the two years they were together.

    That question seemed to be quickly answered in the first game of the season, but when Schmaltz went down to injury in Game 2, the offensive effectiveness of Kaner went down with it. Although he has accumulated 19 points, the winger is in a slump by his lofty standards. Better now than in the spring.

    Cody Franson: C+

    Cody Franson has been all over the map when it comes to his role in Chicago. At times he has been a healthy scratch, sometimes in the bottom pair, has seen action on the powerplay and lately he has been paired with Keith for stints.

    It seems Coach Q can’t quite decide how he wants to deploy the veteran rearguard, hence it hasn’t been the smoothest of transitions for him. Hopefully, the next quarter will be better for Franson.

    Michal Kempny: C

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    Michal Kempny has had a heck of a time trying to stay out of the coach’s doghouse. As I write this, he is back in there as a healthy scratch in the last game for the seventh time this season. Unfortunately, it will probably take an injury to a teammate for the Czech defenseman to gain a spot on the ‘Hawks’ blue line.

    Tanner Kero: C

    Tanner Kero was off to a decent start before he was injured. Now healthy, he has had a difficult time getting back into the lineup, as the head coach seems to prefer Wingels at fourth-line center. Perhaps he would be better suited to play the wing.

    Ryan Hartman: C

    After a stellar beginning to the season playing on the second line with Schmaltz and Kane, Hartman was shuffled down the lineup and has been in and out of Coach Q’s doghouse. He has been guilty of taking dumb penalties and has struggled for consistency in his play. The sophomore winger was a healthy scratch recently. He needs to get going.

    Connor Murphy: C

    Connor Murphy is not your typical Blackhawks defenseman, and because of his style, it is difficult to grade him. In my view, he hasn’t been bad, but I’m not sure that Coach Q agrees. I welcome Murphy’s physicality on a blue line that hasn’t had much of that in recent times.

    I heard someone mention Keith Magnuson and Murphy in the same sentence, and I can see the comparison. Perhaps at the halfway mark in the season we will have a better idea of where this player fits in.

    Patrick Sharp: C-

    Actually, Sharp hasn’t played that badly and he has had his good chances. But two goals is not enough production from the veteran.

    Brent Seabrook: D+

    It is unfortunate that Brent Seabrook’s lack of mobility is catching up to him. I don’t think he can play top-pairing minutes at this time, but we could see a resurgence in a lesser role.

    Lance Bouma: D+

    Lance Bouma brings additional physicality to the fourth line, but he needs to at least be a threat offensively when a scoring chance presents itself.

    Next: Blackhawks Jump Inside Power Rankings' Top 20

    In summary

    The Blackhawks are right in the middle of the pack in the highly competitive Central Division, but are only a single point out of the last wild-card spot and are already 11 points behind division-leading St. Louis Blues. Collectively, they will need to be better as the team enters the second quarter of the season.

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