Just because the Chicago Blackhawks added three veterans during the recent free agency period doesn’t mean last year’s youth movement is off the table
A youth movement seemed underway for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, with Alex DeBrincat having a breakout rookie year and plenty of youngsters getting a chance to shine at the NHL level.
Then, during the recent free agency period, the Blackhawks signed three absolute veterans in Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Manning. The present average age of those three guys is just over 33 years.
And with that, the Blackhawks suddenly feel old again. Duncan Keith is 34. Brent Seabrook is 33, as is Corey Crawford. Artem Anisimov and Jonathan Toews are both 30. Heck, Patrick Kane at 29 isn’t all that young by NHL standards.
So did the Blackhawks suddenly abandon their youth movement despite being among the league’s worst teams last season? I don’t think that’s the case.
How these moves impact roster’s age
Obviously, adding a trio of players who average more than 33 years in age doesn’t make your team any younger. That being said, let’s think about the roles these guys could actually play in 2018-19.
Manning may be a second- or third-pairing guy right now, but the Blackhawks have a boatload of young blueliners itching to get through the system. Manning easily could be bumped from his prospective role and be made into a seventh D-man.
Da Windy City
Kunitz projects to start on the third or fourth line. But, again, there are young guns waiting in the wings to take his spot. The Blackhawks aren’t quite as loaded with forward prospects as they are with defensive ones, but there are enough guys who could make the jump to push Kunitz to a more “mentor-like” role.
Ward is the only guy of these three who doesn’t fit this mold, and that’s simply because the Blackhawks are in bad shape at goaltender. Crawford’s health is uncertain, and the Blackhawks have struggled to develop any young talent in net. Perhaps Collin Delia is the next piece there, but it’s far too early to tell.
What I’m saying is, the youth movement doesn’t have to be stalled by these three signings. Two of them could become close to irrelevant as the 2018-19 campaign goes along, and the third is merely a stopgap because the Blackhawks are a mess in net.
Who can keep youth movement alive
When I say there are guys who can step in front of Manning and Kunitz, you’d like to hear names. Hopefully, some of the guys I suggest here are the guys who can keep the Blackhawks’ necessary youth movement going.
On the defensive side, the present discussion starts with Henri Jokiharju. The 2017 first-round draft pick has made some major strides since the Blackhawks selected him. Perhaps he could make a play at an opening night roster spot.
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Along with the 19-year-old are Carl Dahlstrom (23), Robin Norell (23), Gustav Forsling (22), Blake Hillman (22), Luc Snuggerud (22), Darren Raddysh (22), Joni Tuulola (22), Lucas Carlsson (21), Dennis Gilbert (21), Ryan Shea (21), Chad Krys (20) and Ian Mitchell (19).
I’m not saying all of these guys are presently NHL-ready, but with that many young faces who are getting closer each day (in theory) to competing for a big-league roster spot, it’s hard to say the youth movement is stalling on the blue line because of Manning’s signing.
How about at forward? If we don’t even talk about DeBrincat (20), Brandon Saad (25), Vinnie Hinostroza (24) or Nick Schmaltz (22), we also have Dylan Sikura (23), David Kampf (23), Victor Ejdsell (23), Matthew Highmore (22), Graham Knott (21) and Alexandre Fortin (21), among others.
There are enough names in there to make Kunitz an afterthought should he go the way Patrick Sharp did last season.
Of course, there’s always the possibility both Manning and Kunitz do quite well this year. That would be a nice bonus, but it still wouldn’t allow the Blackhawks to overlook that they need to be getting younger instead of older.
And I don’t think they’ve done that. I think they’ve just brought some guys in to both challenge the younger prospects and serve as stopgaps while those younger guys mature into NHL-ready talent. That’s not the most inspiring thing to hear if you want the Blackhawks to win now (as we all do), but it’s also not the same as saying the youth movement is dead.