Blackhawks Take Another Step Towards a Brighter Future
By Tony Gianares
It’s obvious that the Blackhawks have the future in mind with their latest signings. Forwards Tim Soderlund and Mikael Hakkarainen both signed 3-year entry level contracts worth $925,000 AAV.
The 2019 offseason has huge implications for the Blackhawks. Their main objectives will be to improve the team and get younger at the same time. This is obviously much easier said than done, but the Blackhawks just accomplished both with their latest signings of Tim Soderlund and Mikael Hakkarainen. They are one step closer to a brighter future now.
These signings are the first two dominoes to fall in a crucial offseason. As core players continue to get older and eventually move on, there need to be players ready to step in. A real youth movement has been long overdue. We got our first taste of it last season with Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Collin Delia, Dominik Kahun, Henri Jokiharju, and more.
Fans may not know who Tim Soderlund and Mikael Hakkarainen are yet, but they will soon enough. Here we have two players who are ready to take their game to the next level.
They will get their first real test and opportunity during training camp and in preseason games. At this point, both players are expected to start their NHL careers with the Rockford IceHogs, but that can always change.
Tim Soderlund was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks. Soderlund is a playmaking winger with elite skating and puckhandling abilities. He’s not a big-time goal scorer, but he helps the team in other ways.
Although not a big player at 5’9″ 163lbs, Soderlund plays with a high motor and he’s always willing to forecheck. Here are a few player profiles for Tim Soderlund found on eliteprospects.com:
"“Very speedy skater with excellent work ethic. Söderlund is rather shifty and plays with plenty of intensity. Has a decent scoring touch, but can also be used as a role player with his speed and forechecking skills. A great character and team player.” (EP 2017)“He doesn’t stop moving his feet in the offensive zone, which makes him tough to defend against, as he’s like a little sparkplug out there,” Hockeyprospect.com 2017“He uses his puck skills to deke out opponents, as well as to protect the puck along the wall. He doesn’t shy away from working the boards,” Futureconsiderations.ca 2016"
Tim Soderlund’s stats might not excite you at first glance, but not everything he does shows up on the stat sheet. He has the ability to change a game in the blink of an eye, literally.
Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that he has been playing in the SHL since the 2015-16 season when he was an 18-year-old. The SHL is Sweden’s most competitive hockey league. The talent level in the SHL is generally higher than the AHL, but not quite on the same level as the NHL.
The most intriguing thing about Tim Soderlund is that he can do a little bit of everything. He’s a great team player and any time the puck is on his stick, something exciting is bound to happen. The following highlight reel showcases Soderlund’s well-rounded game and high hockey IQ. His playing style will win you over.
Mikael Hakkarainen was drafted in the 5th round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks. Hakkarainen is a two-way center who stands at 6’0″ 194lbs. When he has the puck, he makes things happen.
As per Brandon M. Cain of Second City Hockey, Hakkarainen has been mostly known for his offensive playmaking abilities, but he has taken the past couple of seasons to improve his skating and defense. His hard work has paid off.
This season, he posted a 24 ± rating in 42 games with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. Another thing Blackhawks fans will like is that he wins faceoffs. His FOW% was said to have been around 60% this season.
Mikael Hakkarainen’s skill set can be seen here, as he weaves his way through traffic to set up his teammate for a prime scoring chance. What a great display of skating, patience, and puckhandling.
Hakkarainen also has an underrated shot which can be seen here, as he easily finds twine for an impressive hat trick. His awareness, positioning, shot selection and accuracy is impeccable.
It sure looks like the Blackhawks made the right choice by signing both Tim Soderlund and Mikael Hakkarainen. A little bit of seasoning with the Rockford IceHogs will hopefully help both players become long term difference makers.
When you add players like Soderlund and Hakkarainen into the mix, along with the 2019 3rd overall pick, it appears that the franchise is heading in the right direction.