What’s the lineup?
I did say at the top I was looking for a seven-man defensive group. I know the Blackhawks carried eight for a large portion of last season, but I really think seven is the better route to go so you’re not having young players just riding the pine.
Here’s what I’ve come up with for a starting six plus one guy in the press box on opening night.
Duncan Keith – Henri Jokiharju
Erik Gustafsson – Brent Seabrook
Blake Hillman – Brandon Manning
Da Windy City
It’s not pretty, but it’s a leading seven if the roster doesn’t change whatsoever before the regular season begins.
Keith could be an early mentor for Jokiharju, and the two could really light things up from an offensive perspective. Jokiharju moves well enough he could cover for Keith in some spots.
Asking Jokiharju to take on top-flight opponents is one thing that could be dangerous, but Q showed a little bit last season he’s going to let some of his youngsters sink or swim.
I don’t love the Gustafsson-Seabrook pairing by any stretch, as Gustafsson gets stuck in the wrong end and Seabrook loves jumping up on the play and can’t get back. While this is a nominal second pairing, I think this pairing could eat minutes equal to the third pairing, versus equal to the first pairing.
Since Manning is pretty much slotted in to play for now, I went ahead and put him with Hillman. Manning is a stay-at-home guy, while Hillman was tossed into more defensive-end situations during his short first NHL stint. This could be the de facto shutdown pairing, as rough as that sounds.
And Forsling rounds out the faction, to jump in for someone like Seabrook or Manning. (For the record, if Hillman is paired with Forsling, that’s no longer a shutdown pairing.)
I know this is probably the most insane grouping of defensemen to deem an opening-night crew for 2018-19. And I’m sure the Blackhawks have some more plans up their sleeves when it comes to altering their roster. But for right now, this is a group that could begin the year on the back end.