The Chicago Blackhawks’ defense continues to grow in size thanks to injuries, so what does this mean for the rest of the season — and for prospects beyond 2017-18?
Most NHL teams carry seven, maybe eight defensemen during the regular season. The Chicago Blackhawks currently have 10 blueliners technically on their roster, thanks to Cody Franson and Michal Rozsival being on injured reserve.
Jan Rutta is injured on top of this, so for the moment, things are clear. The Blackhawks rolled out Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Gustav Forsling, Jordan Oesterle and Michal Kempny in Thursday’s win against Winnipeg, while the recently-called-up Ville Pokka sat.
Still, the Blackhawks’ defense is clearly muddled. This is even more true when you consider the report from The Rink’s John Jaeckel saying Kempny might be on the outs via trade. So what will the Blackhawks’ defense look like moving forward?
For the rest of 2017-18
Pokka will be back in the AHL with relative speed, but there are still questions after that. It doesn’t seem like either Franson nor Rutta will be out long, so that would seem likely to indicate Oesterle and Kempny are heading back to the press box.
But does it necessarily have to be that way? Franson nor Rutta are standing out above the rest of the crowd right now. At the same time, coach Joel Quenneville would be best served trying to keep his lineup as stable as possible.
Da Windy City
I think Oesterle and Kempny are destined to be healthy scratched again once everyone is healthy. I’m not sure whether or not the Kempny trade rumor should be fully believed, but if the Blackhawks cannot move him, they’ll probably try to shove Oesterle through waivers at some point so they can add another forward.
The Blackhawks are in more obvious need of forwards right now than defensemen. While it’s not like the defense is the pinnacle of being right now, Coach Q at least has his answers for who he wants to play and where he wants them.
At forward, guys are getting healthy scratched left and right. Ryan Hartman and Richard Panik have been recent choices, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone like Patrick Sharp or Lance Bouma next on the list.
The Blackhawks need more reliable forwards who can produce points, and trying to snag someone from the AHL is probably the best way to do that outside a trade. Matthew Highmore or Tomas Jurco would be the most probable candidates, at this point.
Beyond this season
This is where things get more confusing. Let’s say the Blackhawks roll with seven defensemen the rest of the season. They still have Franson, Kempny and Rutta, but they’re trying to develop talent and get it up to the NHL level.
I don’t think Pokka has any serious future with Chicago at the NHL level, but we’re also talking about guys like Carl Dahlstrom, Luc Snuggerud, Robin Norell and Darren Raddysh who are in Rockford now. That means they’re a step away from making that leap.
If the Blackhawks deem one or two of these guys are ready to start the 2018-19 season in the big leagues — Snuggerud seemed to have an outside shot at cracking the roster even this season — what do they do with this overload?
The Blackhawks will want to get something for any players they move, if at all possible. It might even just be draft picks. But I can’t imagine Kempny or Franson being part of this team after this season. Rutta is kind of the wild card — it depends how the rest of 2017-18 goes for him.
I’m very curious to see what the Blackhawks do to pare down their defense in the calendar year 2018. Certainly, success in the postseason — or lack thereof — will help make some decisions. But while the team has tried to get to a competent place on the blue line, it has made for a muddled situation moving forward.