Question 1: To be honest, since opening night of the season, nothing has really changed when it comes to my opinion on Blackhawks’ starting six blueliners. I’d still go with Keith, Rutta, Forsling, Murphy, Seabrook and Kempny. I don’t mind Oesterle and Franson as depth guys who need to be inserted on occasion to keep each in some kind of game shape.
As I expected, after some growing pains, Connor Murphy has become an integral part of Chicago’s defense. I like Jan Rutta’s consistency as well as Michal Kempny’s mobility, though I wonder if Coach Q agrees with me about Kempny. I also like the overall game of 21-year-old Gustav Forsling, but must question his deployment on the No. 1 penalty kill unit at this point in his career.
Question 2: Kane and Toews are obvious choices to head up the trio of shooters but who should be third?
I’d try DeBrincat in the third slot. I’m not sure how he’d work out, but he is a natural goal scorer.
Da Windy City
Question 1: I think you’re good with Duncan Keith, reduced-minutes Brent Seabrook, Gustav Forsling, Connor Murphy and Michal Kempny as five. You can pair Forsling with Murphy and Kempny with Seabrook. That has worked well of late.
The one hole left, then, is next to Keith on the top pairing. That means it can go to one of Cody Franson, Jan Rutta or Jordan Oesterle. The last of those three has been playing with Keith of late, though both are left-handed shots. But I think Rutta should get that nod at the end of the day.
I think Oesterle has shown some nice ability recently, but I’m not sure how long that can last for extended stretches. I think the more he gets thrown out there, the more he gets exposed to being figured out. That’s possibly what’s been going on with Rutta, who went from a shining star to being in a bit of a rut (pun intended) before his injury.
I just think Rutta is the better defenseman of those two, so he will be able to better adjust to this process in the NHL. Worst-case scenario, you can just rotate Rutta, Oesterle and Franson if Joel Quenneville is insistent on keeping all three on the roster.
Question 2: Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz. Go with three guys who know how to do crazy things with the puck and confuse the daylights out of opposing goalies.
The one thing that really helps in the shootout is being able to make the goaltender question himself. All three of these guys will do that simply with the way they handle the puck heading toward the net. Add to that their wild abilities to create shots, and you’ve got goalies’ heads spinning.
Jonathan Toews relies way too much on the 5-hole move nowadays. It’s well scouted, and I think he could afford to take a break from the shootout.