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6 Chicago Blackhawks Positives From A Down 2017-18 Season

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Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Needless to say, this season has been a difficult one for Chicago Blackhawks and their fans. Today, I search for some positives going forward in a season that overall is best forgotten.

Alex DeBrincat

Obviously, the most positive development this season is the progress of rookie sensation Alex DeBrincat. Despite all the negatives around him, the emerging NHL sniper is on a tear to the tune of being on pace for a 30-goal rookie campaign.

His 21 goals has the diminutive winger sharing the team lead in goal scoring with Patrick Kane. Even more remarkable is he has reached this plateau playing much of the time on the third line.

Prior to this season, it was Oilers superstar and former linemate with the Erie Otters Connor McDavid who alerted the hockey world this kid was not someone who produced great numbers merely because of the stars he played with as a junior. That DeBrincat was indeed an excellent player in his own right.

Some were skeptical, mainly because of his small stature, but I think that skepticism has passed, even for the critics. Cat has also earned the praise of coach Joel Quenneville, not just for his offense but for his defensive game and fine positional play without the puck.

Fans have called for it most of the season, but it seems just a matter of time before the tandem of Kane and DeBrincat play together on the same line …. while mesmerizing opposition with elite skill and creativity.

Tommy Wingels

At a time when it seemed inevitable the Blackhawks would amp up the youth movement, general manager Stan Bowman raised some eyebrows when he acquired veteran grinders Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels in the offseason.

Getting the opportunity to play for the Chicago Blackhawks was a dream come true for Wingels, an Illinois native. Knowing Quenneville’s penchant for favoring experience over youth, you just knew that the writing was on the wall — and true to form, despite youngsters like Vinnie Hinostroza and 23-year-old Czech rookie David Kampf having excellent camps, it was Bouma and Wingels who prevailed. Hino and Kampf were shipped to Rockford.

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Surprisingly, the veteran tandem along with rookie John Hayden proved to be a formidable fourth line for most of the first half of the season. The trio, led by the inspiring play of Wingels, was the team’s best line on most nights.

Wingels is a physical presence and penalty kill specialist. In fact, Q liked Wingels play so much, he moved him to the third line for stints when the team showed signs of faltering, and recently the veteran who turns 30 in April has seen powerplay time as well as stints on the Toews line.

No, I’m not saying that Wingels should be playing top-six hockey, but I do think it would be prudent to sign him to a one-year contract and keep him on the fourth line until a kid comes along and proves to be better in that role.

Vinnie Hinostroza

Another local kid, Hinostroza was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012 and has had a difficult time impressing Coach Q. After being demoted to the AHL for most of the 2016-17 season, the 23-year-old found himself back in Rockford to begin this campaign.

He was finally promoted in December and became a spark plug for the team immediately. The Bartlett, Ill., native has been one of the better ‘Hawks in his 26 games with the big club. Hopefully, being scratched in Tuesday’s loss to Vegas was a one-off and he will return to the lineup and finish the season as a regular in Chicago. You never know the way this season has unfolded.

John Hayden

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The rookie Yale product surprised a few people when he made the big club right out of his first training camp as a professional. Hayden is a rugged forward who plays a simple, hard-nosed, north-south game.

Yet another Illinois native, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Hayden uses his size well and has obvious leadership abilities. After a fine start, the third-round draft pick slowed somewhat and was assigned to Rockford on Jan. 8. He needs to work on his quickness in the minors, but I reckon he will be back next season and in the same role with the Blackhawks.

The penalty kill

As bad as this season has been, the penalty kill continues to be a bright spot. Led by Jonathon Toews, Brandan Saad, Nick Schmaltz and Wingels up front, and veterans Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in the back end, gone is the futility that had crept in when Blackhawks were playing the passive box with the terrible habit of leaving opposition point men uncovered.

As I write this, the team’s PK average is listed at 82.5 percent, which is ninth in the NHL. Ulf Samuelsson deserves some credit for helping to right the ship in this regard.

Corey Crawford

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the play of Crawford. The veteran netminder was having the best season of his career before going down to injury in late fall.

Crow’s .929 save percentage and 2.27 GAA had him in the top five and had him in consideration for the Vezina Trophy.  The Blackhawks have faltered badly in his absence. There is some talk that he will be rejoining the team in the very near future.

On a final note, the Chicago Blackhawks are still alive for a playoff spot, but it will take a monumental effort and probably some divine intervention for it to happen. Not much has gone right this year, and it seems that a playoff berth is lost for the first time in a decade.

Next: Looking To Blackhawks' 2018-19 Roster

But there are some positives. As well, the upcoming draft is reportedly a strong one and Chicago will likely secure a top-10 pick. It’s been a while since that has happened. So there’s always that.

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