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Lankinen’s Rise Could Seal Crawford’s Future with Blackhawks

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 17: Michael Rasmussen #27 of the Detroit Red Wings controls the puck between Kevin Lankinen #34 and Carl Dahlstrom #63 of the Chicago Blackhawks during a pre-season NHL game at Little Caesars Arena on September 17, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 17: Michael Rasmussen #27 of the Detroit Red Wings controls the puck between Kevin Lankinen #34 and Carl Dahlstrom #63 of the Chicago Blackhawks during a pre-season NHL game at Little Caesars Arena on September 17, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The Finnish goaltender’s solid play in Rockford this season could make him a viable choice as the Chicago Blackhawks’ backup goaltender next season.

On Friday, Chicago Blackhawks’ goaltending prospect Kevin Lankinen was named the Rockford IceHogs’ lone 2020 AHL All-Star representative this year. The very next day, the Blackhawks called Lankinen up on an emergency basis and ruled Robin Lehner out with a knee injury. Lehner is considered day-to-day.

With a game against the Red Wings on Sunday evening, Lankinen has been confirmed as the backup to Corey Crawford, who sees the net for the first time since December 23, when he was pulled in the second period of a 7-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

This is the second time Lankinen has been recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks this season. The first also being on an emergency basis, when Lehner had flu-like symptoms early in December. It may come as a bit of a surprise that he’s been the choice both times due to Collin Delia‘s role with the ‘Hawks the past two seasons. However, Delia has been struggling this season and Lankinen has taken the next step in his development.

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Lehner’s injury is still being evaluated. The knee injury doesn’t seem to be serious or long-term, so expect Crawford to start all of the games during Lehner’s absence. Lankinen’s role with the Blackhawks will be minimal this season, but his role going forward will surely be re-evaluated this offseason and heading into next season.

At the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, Lankinen will become a restricted free agent. Both Lehner and Crawford will be unrestricted free agents as well. Lehner’s recent run of consecutive starts might suggest that he would be the favorite to sign a new deal out of the two.

Although the Chicago Blackhawks’ goalie tandem has been stellar this season and one of the few bright spots, Lankinen’s solid play could also push for a decision to be made sooner rather than later. Rockford has been carrying three goalies in Lankinen, Delia, and Tomkins, so that would also make it easier for Rockford’s goalie situation to be set a little bit more on a nightly basis if a move were to be made by the Blackhawks on the NHL level.

I wrote about the Blackhawks’ goaltending depth chart at the beginning of the season and was on the side to keep Crawford, but Lehner’s stellar play and honest post-game comments make it hard to not be all-in on him. I think there definitely needs to be a decision made between him and Crawford. For all that Crawford has done for this organization, it’s unfortunate that both sides may need to part ways as a result of the play from Lehner and Lankinen this season.

It’s definitely a good problem to have, especially with the Blackhawks not having much of the recent goaltending depth you’d like to see, but the top three goaltenders in the organization need new contracts at the end of the year and it doesn’t seem viable that they all return next season.

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