The Blackhawks’ first major move of the offseason came on Saturday evening.
The Chicago Blackhawks traded forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 5th round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Olli Maatta.
The Blackhawks added another defenseman to their core group, but we won’t touch on that right now. What we will touch on is: who steps into Kahun’s role in the forward group?
As I touched on last month, Kahun had a very solid rookie season with the Blackhawks, but struggled with his consistency throughout the year.
Many saw Kahun as an extremely versatile forward who really could move up and down the line up. He spent time on all four lines throughout the season.
Now that he has been moved to Pittsburgh, it is time to see who might slide into Kahun’s role with the Blackhawks in the coming season.
Dylan Sikura’s second season — his first full professional season — was one with some major peaks and valleys. Many people saw him as a player that could immediately jump into a top nine role in the NHL.
Sikura struggled to find his footing out of camp where players like Kahun surpassed him, and would find himself in the AHL to start the season.
However, Sikura was able to find some consistency in his game in the AHL, with the Rockford IceHogs. He would go on to put up 35 points in 46 games. Nothing earth shattering, but he was consistently the IceHogs’ best player.
Sikura would get a call from the Blackhawks at the end of the season, and even found time on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Even after being given that golden opportunity, he failed to score while still putting up some good analytical numbers.
For Dylan Sikura, this could be a huge opportunity for him, if he can find that consistency that eluded him last season. He could also benefit by putting some more weight on his frame, so that he is not out matched constantly at the NHL level.
He was a player I thought could be moved to find some defensive help this offseason, but with Kahun on the move, it could be Sikura that the Blackhawks are banking on.
To say last season was a struggle for Perlini would be an understatement, after being traded to the Blackhawks early in the season in hopes to find his game once again.
However, Perlini could not find his footing only able to put up 3 goals and 1 assist in his first 29 games with Chicago. Things would change when they made their way out west, as he recorded two multi-goal games finishing off the final 17 games of the season with 9 goals and 2 assists.
Perlini clearly struggled during the 2018-2019 season, but he is going into the offseason on a positive note. Hopefully, this is something he can build off of heading into the 2019-20 season.
The real question is: can Perlini find a way to be a more consistent contributor throughout the lineup, or is he just a streaky depth scorer?
There are some really high hopes for Kubalik going into this season, after what looked like an afterthought of a trade during the season.
Kubalik even impressed during the World Hockey Championship where he put up 10 points in 12 games for the Czech Republic and helped them reach the medal round.
Kubalik is a bit of an unknown since he is coming over from the Swiss League, but general manager, Stan Bowman, and pundits from around the league have a lot of faith around Kubalik’s ability to do something similar to Kahun.
Until we see Kubalik in training camp, we won’t know where he fit with this line up, much like Kahun last season. He could potentially impact the forward rotation this season.
Here is one of the two wild cards I could see going into the season. Anton Wedin is absolutely an unknown when it comes to his NHL ability and whether or not he can successfully jump into the NHL.
Bowman has had some success with bringing over international players and having them make the team out of camp, but Wedin seem like he might need some AHL seasoning before he can make that jump.
We have seen some jumps to the NHL, like Kahun and David Kampf in the past, but much like Kubalik, Wedin has a lot to prove when it comes to the NHL.
For the past few seasons, Matthew Highmore has been on the lips of Blackhawks’ fans, as a player who is ready to make the jump to the Blackhawks full time.
Inconsistent play coupled with injury has derailed his hopes a bit. Highmore was only able to suit up for 12 games this past season for the IceHogs, but was able to record 9 points in that small sample size.
For him, I think this will be the make or break season. We will finally see if he is a permanent bottom six forward at the NHL level, or if he is going to continue to stay in that fringe NHL area.
Personally, I really appreciate the way Highmore plays the game, but I am still unsure if he has a place at the NHL table. That can all change with a strong offseason though.
Internally, the Blackhawks have players who can step up to fill the shoes of a player like Kahun, but many of them still have much to prove.
In my mind, Sikura and Kubalik are the most likely candidates to try and take on the void left by Kahun, but with such a long offseason ahead of us, more moves on the roster are sure to happen.
This could mean that Blackhawks management might be positioning themselves add more depth at the forward position, or it could just be them creating space for players like Sikura, Perlini, or Kubalik.
Whatever the eventual outcome is, this is something many of us did not see coming. Going forward, it looks like Bowman and Co. have more moves on the way.