Free Agency

Digging Deeper: Five Depth Forwards the Blackhawks Could Target

By Michael Wagner
WINNIPEG, MB - NOVEMBER 27: Brandon Tanev #13 of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates after scoring a first period short-handed goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell MTS Place on November 27, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
WINNIPEG, MB - NOVEMBER 27: Brandon Tanev #13 of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates after scoring a first period short-handed goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell MTS Place on November 27, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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As free agency inches closer, general manager Stan Bowman is setting his sights on adding depth to their forward group.

The Blackhawks have really begun to reshape their lineup from the back end with deals for defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

In a conference call a few days ago, after the de Haan trade, Bowman would not tip his hand on if the Blackhawks would be targeting the big fish like Anders Lee or Joe Pavelski but did note that he would like to add a forward or two to help the penalty kill and rounding out the forward depth.

Looking at the Blackhawks’ depth chart, there is still a lot of youth filling out the bottom six. In the cases of players like Dylan Sikura, Aleksi Saarela, Phillip Kurashev, and even John Quenneville, it doesn’t seem ideal for them to be playing fourth line minutes.

Also, it does seem reasonable that the Blackhawks might be looking to move on from center Artem Anisimov, as he doesn’t have the tools you would be looking for in a third line center.

Anisimov is not great on draws, or strong defensively, so unless he moves to wing in the top six, it is conceivable that he might be a casualty of the offseason.

Speaking of the bottom six, and how the Blackhawks hope to improve on the penalty kill, NBC Sports Chicago Head of Content, Slavko Bekovic, listed out some of the top penalty killers on the market.

After looking at this list, and going off of rumors that have been circling during the free agent negotiating window, let’s now take a closer look at five players who could be interesting targets for the Blackhawks.

Markus Granlund

The player that tops the list of forwards in total ice time in shorthanded situations is Markus Granlund. The former Canuck was not qualified by Vancouver and is hitting the open market.

He is a former second-round pick that has not grown into the player many thought he would be, a playmaking second line center. Granlund has nestled into a role as a strong penalty killer, who can provide you some depth in your bottom six.

In my mind, Granlund would be an optimal add on the wing, on the third line, but does not tick one of the boxes I think the Blackhawks desperately need in their bottom six forwards.

They need someone who can take defensive zone draws. Granlund is marketed as a center, but has really struggled at the faceoff circle with a 42% win rate. His win rate is actually worse than Anisimov, who was just a hair over 45% last season.

Although Granlund isn’t an optimal option on the third line at center, he could be a good value player to have in the mix on the bottom six. He’s a player that can contribute some offense and be a major contributor on the penalty kill.

Ryan Carpenter

There is no chance that the Vegas Golden Knights are going to bring back all of their players since they are currently strapped for cash. It would appear that Ryan Carpenter will be one of their causalities this offseason.

Carpenter is the prototypical bottom six center, defensively responsible and tremendous this last season at the faceoff dot with a 52% win rate.

However, he will not excite many when it comes to the offensive end, with his career high in points coming last season with 18 points.

As Lazerus points out, it does appear that the Blackhawks are interested in adding a player like Carpenter to mix in the bottom six.

His ability to take draws at an effective rate and ability to play on the penalty kill makes him an attractive option for Chicago.

Another reason Carpenter makes a ton of sense for the Blackhawks is his cost. He is coming off a $650,000 AAV contract, so even a bump in pay would put him in a reasonable place for Chicago, who seems to be looking to be conservative with players.

Keep in mind, that both Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are due for new contracts next season.

Carpenter isn’t the sexiest pick but at his cost as well as what he would bring to the forward depth, he would be a welcomed addition for the Blackhawks.

Valtteri Filppula

The oldest option of these five, 35 years old, is not my ideal addition but does check some of the boxes the Blackhawks are trying to fill.

One major positive that Filppula brings to the table has been his consistency, he has had a few big point outbursts but throughout his career, he has been a 30 point producer and a solid player at the faceoff dot, 52% average throughout his career.

Filppula does have a lot of the tools the Blackhawks will be looking for in a depth player. Someone who can provide some offensive contributions, help elevate their penalty kill and provide them with someone who is reliable at the faceoff dot.

The one concern I would have is whether his foot speed and skating can keep up with the pace of the current NHL as well as the speed the Blackhawks are trying to inject in their lineup.

Filppula does fit a lot of the requirements that Bowman laid out but also will likely be a hot commodity come July 1 for contenders looking to strengthen their bottom six forwards.

Nick Cousins

Nick Cousins might be a bit of a curve ball here with the inclusion on the list, but I think he fits the category of a good depth forward the Blackhawks might want to take a flyer on.

Over the last three seasons with Arizona, Cousins’ numbers have continued to rise, with his career high in points coming last season with 27 points in 81 games with the Coyotes. The thing that has me extremely high on Cousins is his shot contribution and possession numbers.

Comparing him from a shot contribution and possession sense, he is miles ahead of anyone on this list and although he is not seen as a penalty killer or a faceoff specialist he is just a well-rounded hockey player that could really give your bottom six some scoring depth.

Although Cousins is listed as a center he is not great on draws, similar to Anisimov, but is only 26 years old and progressing in the right direction.

The age, the numbers, and the cost all seems to line up as Cousins being a really interesting player the Blackhawks could target in free agency.

Brandon Tanev

Now, we get to the player I think will have a lot of suitors come July 1st, as he took a huge step offensively in Winnipeg and continued to be one of the top defensive forwards in the league.

Tanev could step in and be your third line left wing right away and improve your penalty kill immensely. He even got a 5th place vote for the Selke trophy.

Tanev is clearly a winger, so he doesn’t help the Blackhawks at the faceoff dot, but I completely see Tanev as the top option they should target as free agency opens.

They are going to have a ton of competition when it comes to Tanev as a player, who can pot you 30 points and play a pivotal role on your penalty kill.

If Bowman is looking for someone who can do a bit of everything well, then he could do far worse than Tanev.

Currently, there are only a few spots left on the Blackhawks’ depth chart. If Bowman really wants to prove himself, then he must have his sights set on several of these players and continue the trend of shoring up the Blackhawks’ defense.

The question then becomes, if he does strike out on some big names, are these kinds of defensive upgrades going to be enough to push the Blackhawks back into the playoffs next season?

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