The Chicago Blackhawks preseason has come and gone. October is finally here and the regular season is following quickly behind as we are only one day from the start of the 2018-19 campaign. In preparation for this year here’s what we learned from the Blackhawks’ preseason.
No. 1) Brent Seabrook cannot play on a top defensive pairing this year.
In more than a few games and practices this preseason, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville reunited Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the first defensive pairing. Though it worked okay on some occasions (the 8-6 Detroit loss being one of them) there are simply more pros than cons to keeping Seabrook off the first pairing.
For example, Brent Seabrook is said to be in the best shape of his life coming into this season however that means that he’s conditioned, not quicker. Speed has never been his thing and, although he’s looked more agile this season, keeping him out of those top line matchups would be significantly more beneficial to him.
Last season, Seabrook was a very good third-pairing defenseman when playing that role. Though he looks better this year, I don’t think he’s the right fit for their top-two. Additionally, I don’t think Seabrook’s talents are best served on the penalty-kill, either.
All in all, this preseason (and the end of last season) has set up a solid blue print for how Seabrook can be most effective this year:
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- Move him back to the third pairing (thus, decreasing his minutes)
- Swap his penalty-kill minutes with power-play minutes because, after all, he still has the most powerful slap-shot on the team
With Seabs moving down to the second or third pairing, this leaves Keith alone on the first-pairing. This, of course, un-coincidentally brings us to our next point.
No. 2) Henri Jokiharju needs to play (or at least start) on the first-pairing this season alongside Keith.
According to data from Scott Powers which he gathered for the All Three Zones Project, the Chicago Blackhawks were pretty terrible when it came to breaking out of the defensive zone last season. On over 22% of their defensive zone exit attempts they either lost possession or failed to clear the zone. As a result, they found themselves in the bottom third of the league in that category.
Duncan Keith was more or less the sole reason the Chicago Blackhawks managed to reach 22% and not slip any lower. Jokiharju can help to solve this problem, too.
Sure, he’s going to hit speed bumps (and a lot of them) along the way, but doing so alongside the Chicago Blackhawks’ best defenseman will allow him to make mistakes. Playing alongside Keith will provide a very important veteran presence much like Zdeno Chara did for Charlie MvAvoy.
The game is second nature for guys like Keith and Chara which makes young, inexperienced players more comfortable on the ice. Keith taking Jokiharju “under his wing” will be huge for his ability to learn and develop this season.
Plus, a defensive first-pairing will face primarily top-six matchups. With the league getting faster, Jokiharju’s speed will help the Blackhawks to compete. His skating ability in addition to his ability to win foot- races to the puck and jump in on odd-man rushes will be huge for this Blackhawks defense and team as a whole.