Editorials

What To Watch: Chicago Blackhawks vs Columbus Blue Jackets

By Samuel Boland
COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 24: Pierre-Luc Dubois #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Erik Gustafsson #56 of the Chicago Blackhawks battle for the puck during the third period of the game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on February 24, 2018. Columbus Blue Jackets won 3-2. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 24: Pierre-Luc Dubois #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Erik Gustafsson #56 of the Chicago Blackhawks battle for the puck during the third period of the game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on February 24, 2018. Columbus Blue Jackets won 3-2. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Today, the Chicago Blackhawks will be playing their first exhibition game of the preseason against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take a look at a few things to watch during tonight’s game.

1) Depth Defensively

As of this morning, Scott Powers reported that the Chicago Blackhawks defensive lines were going to look like this tonight against the Blue jackets:

  • Gustafsson-Dahlstrom
  • Hillman-Jokiharju
  • Davidson-Boqvist

Should this be true, this makes the blue line a heck-of-a-lot-of-fun to watch this evening. Blake Hillman impressed in his short time with the team last season and stood out during prospect camp this year. Also, Erik Gustafsson’s advanced stats give up a huge potential upside but he has yet to prove it on the ice.

This is a prove-it year for Gustafsson so his play will be very important to keep tabs on during preseason.

Coach Joel Quenneville said that should Henri Jokiharju make the team, he’d have to be playing nearly every night. In other words, the Blackhawks would not keep Jokiharju on as a seventh defenseman.

That said, Q, who’s toying with combining Keith and Seabrook once again, added that if the two of them were to be the Blackhawks first defensive pairing moving forward it wouldn’t prevent Jokiharju from being a regular in the lineup. He also mentioned that  Carl Dahlstrom, playing on the first pairing with Erik Gustafsson tonight, could be a rotation guy.

On a Jokiharju note, Q had a lot of positives to say about him following camp and the team scrimmage.

"“He’s quick (to) the loose pucks, he comes out of it in tight areas and there’s a direct play to be made form it,” Q said per John Dietz. “I like the fact that he wants the puck in some areas where some defensemen don’t want it.”"

All in all, Jokiharju is someone you’ll want to keep your eyes on tonight. Additionally, those top four defensemen listed above all have serious chances to make the NHL roster this year. Keep your eyes peeled for who stands out. On the third pairing, this is your first opportunity to see Chicago Blackhawks eighth overall pick Adam Boqvist skating in a Hawks uniform on national television. Enjoy it.

2) Top Six or Bottom Six?

Per the same Powers’ report, the Chicago Blackhawks forward lines should look something like this tonight:

  • Ejdsell-Anisimov-Sikura
  • Hayden-Kruger-Martinsen
  • Fortin-Kurashev-Highmore
  • Noel-Samuelsson-Kahun

The top six here immediately jump out. Coach Q has expressed multiple times throughout camp that he likes what he’s seen out of Hayden-Kruger-Martinsen. This group, the second line tonight, could be the fourth line come opening day October 4th.

They play physical with the combination of Hayden and Martinsen, but Kruger’s strong defensive play could help them to be a smart, yet effective fourth line.

Kruger was sent down to the AHL last season before coming back to Chicago in a trade. This matchup is his first opportunity to prove that he still belongs in the NHL and can produce in the setting the Blackhawks have him in.

Coach Quenneville singled out the fourth line of Hayden-Kruger-Martinsen as a standout during the Blackhawks scrimmage which is huge.

I’d watch for this lines’ physical presence from the drop of the puck. It should be fun.

Then, there’s tonights’ first line. The combination of Ejdsell-Anisimov-Sikura should be very entertaining to watch. Oftentimes, centers like to play big puck possession games. Centers frequently like having the puck on their sticks, being the ones making plays.

That said, Artem Anisimov doesn’t fit that description. Anisimov likes to play (and thrives in) a support role where his wingers possess the puck and are the ones making plays. This is one of the biggest reasons the Patrick Kane-Anisimov-Artemi Panarin line worked so well. Anisimov knows how to support and find teammates.

That is exactly why Anisimov could be the perfect center for Ejdsell and Sikura.

Sikura is an exciting young player who can do a lot with the puck. He’s fast and has impressed all camp long. Additionally, Q also singled him out as a stand out during the team’s scrimmage. Then there’s Ejdsell, a big forward (literally) who came over in the Ryan Hartman trade last season. Ejdsell had a very solid spring as he played well for the Rockford IceHogs during their playoff run.

Ejdsell and Sikura both look to prove they are NHL ready during this preseason and I’m thinking they are. This line has the potential to be one of the most dynamic two-way lines the Blackhawks have at their disposal this season.

All in all, tonight’s top six could very well be their bottom six this season. Watch them tonight for your first look.

3) Goaltending

Cam Ward and Collin Delia are both dressing for Chicago tonight, however the starter has yet to be announced. That said, it will be intriguing either way. Blackhawks fans could get their first look at Ward, brought in to provide stability to an Crawford-less net for the time being, in a Blackhawks sweater. Cam is a proven number one, however it remains to be seen at what level he can still play at.

Additionally, Delia is one of many Blackhawks goaltenders who took the net last season. Delia is expected to continue his development in Rockford this season however he hopes to continue to climb up a competitive goalie food chain forming in the Blackhawks organization.

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Regardless of who is in net, the goaltender’s performance tonight is one to keep a close eye on for more than just the score.

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