As the Blackhawks’ core continues to age, there is no question that the Hawks are changing. Toews and Kane are no longer in their twenties, Keith is halfway through his thirties and Seabrook is at the tail end of his career.
The once-electric Blackhawks’ core is entering the end of their stint of dominance. Toews, Kane, and Keith have all won three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe a piece. These players are legends and a part of the Top 100 players of all-time. As these players get older, who will the ‘Hawks new core include?
Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat
The first two pieces to name in the Blackhawks’ new core are easy, Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat. Since joining the Blackhawks, Dylan Strome has played like a former 3rd overall pick. Even though he only played half of a season with the ‘Hawks, it was a great half of the season. Moving into next season, the Blackhawks will need Strome and DeBrincat to pick up where Toews and Kane left off. In the future, these two players may need to play at a high level on different lines.
One area Strome needs to improve in is the faceoff dot. Strome was at 44.9% in the faceoff dot, while Toews was 56.3% in the faceoff dot last season.
Alex DeBrincat has played great hockey through 2 seasons in the NHL. He put up 52 points in his rookie year and then 76 points in his sophomore season. DeBrincat has gained a lot more confidence in his play, and last season, he scored 13 power play goals.
During the 2016 NHL draft, DeBrincat was passed over by a lot of teams. People viewed his lack of size as an issue, which is something DeBrincat has silenced. The former second round pick is in the top 5 of his draft class in points.
You have two dominant players, in Strome and DeBrincat, to take on the role of a Toews and Kane level duo. Guys that could potentially be split up to add scoring depth or put back together for a timely goal. The ‘Hawks might want to consider extending these two ‘Hawks early on into next season. The new core also has some other pieces to look at as well.
If you would have told me 2 years ago the deepest position in the Blackhawks’ farm system would be defensemen, I would have laughed at you. Yet, here we are with Adam Boqvist, Henri Jokiharju, Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, and Chad Krys. Five defensive prospects that all play a relatively big offensive game with some work still needed in the defensive zone. Chicago has 5 guys that could be on the NHL roster within the next few years.
Henri Jokiharju has the best chance of playing in the NHL next season. After playing some NHL games this past season, Jokiharju was sent down to Rockford to get more experience in all situations of the game and more playing time in general. The young Blackhawks’ defenseman was used in all types of situations in the minors, from the defensive zone, or draws on the power play. I think Jokiharju will come back ready to play next season, and could potentially be a top line defenseman.
Outside of Jokiharju, it is still too early to tell when Boqvist, Beaudin, and Mitchell will make the jump to the NHL. Ian Mitchell could have made the jump, but opted for another year at the University of Denver.
The hard thing about looking at these prospects is that it is all speculation. Luckily, there are a few pieces in the Blackhawks locker room that could help out now.
Connor Murphy has the size and, at times, plays a big man’s game. Murphy is not afraid to throw his size around on the ice. That might be one of his only qualities that were valuable this past season. He played well on the penalty kill, and at only 26 years of age, could possibly become a top defenseman with the game on the line for the Blackhawks.
Outside of Murphy, the next best young defensive piece would be Carl Dahlstrom. I would not say Dahlstrom is a future core member for this team, but he could prove me wrong though. Only time will tell.
Players Who Need to Prove Themselves
Offensively, besides Debrincat and Strome, there are a couple of players who could make a case for being a part of Blackhawks’ new core. Brandon Saad is only 26, but he is a veteran with 2 Stanley Cups. Saad is the buffer player between the old and new core for Chicago. He will need to play top line caliber hockey again on a team that can use his size and speed.
Brendan Perlini, who should be re-signed, is another player that could prove himself for the Blackhawks. Outside of these pieces, you need to look at the third overall pick this season.
What Does the Future Hold for the Blackhawks?
The possibilities are endless with the place Chicago is in. From Dylan Cozens to Cole Caufield, the most likely outcome will be Chicago bringing in a forward via the 2019 NHL Draft. Regardless of who joins the team with the third overall pick, there is no doubt that the player will be a great piece in the Blackhawks’ locker room.
Having a goalie to lean on when the game is relatively one-sided some days is important, especially in Chicago. Corey Crawford has been this guy for years, but the question remains, will he be able to succeed in net with the concussion issues he has faced during the last 2 seasons?
Chicago might have already found their goaltender of the future. Collin Delia was recently signed to a 3-year extension. The 24-year-old goalie will have some time to develop this season, as he will likely split time in net with Crow this season.
Let’s discuss the elephant in the room — the players left from the Blackhawks’ older core. Toews and Kane had the best seasons of their career last year, Duncan Keith might be a little slower but he is still Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook’s contract is never leaving the ‘Hawks.
Chicago still has 3 of the Top 100 players of all-time. Although they are not in this new core group, they are still great pieces to the team. The great thing about the ‘Hawks relatively quick retool is that you are not asking for Toews and Kane to step aside, you are just asking for DeBrincat, Strome, and a few others to step up. You are not asking Duncan Keith to leave the top 6, rather move to the top 4 and help guide Jokiharju, Boqvist, and the other young defensemen on the blue line.
It could only be a year before we see the Blackhawks core revolve around players like Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Henri Jokiharu, Adam Boqvist, and more. This new core group will also include whoever is drafted 3rd overall by the Blackhawks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Those young core guys would still have Toews and Kane to lean on, hopefully with less ice time. Imagine a team with Toews on the third line — there to make an impact, but not taking up most of the ice time.
Chicago started the great shift when they fired Joel Quenneville last season. Now, with the core shifting, older pieces can still make a contribution to the team and help compete for a Stanley Cup.