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Analysis

The Future of The Chicago Blackhawks’ Blue Line in 2021 and Beyond

Joseph Felicelli
Duncan Keith #2, Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Duncan Keith #2, Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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Connor Murphy, Blackhawks
Connor Murphy, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Main Roster Defensemen

The ‘Hawks have a pretty deep roster of D-men right now, as several young players got a chance to gain experience this past season. And there are several holdovers from past years that are still there and performing at various levels of play. We’ll start there. As such, we will leave out Brent Seabrook, who has indicated he will not be able to play again due to repeated injuries.

Duncan Keith, LD: Keith is the very model of D-man that you need to anchor your position group on a contending team. He was an elite defender for a decade, excelling for the ‘Hawks in his own zone, and contributing in all other zones. Having won multiple Norris Trophies, he was the gold standard in Chicago for D-men. However, he is not the same player he was at nearly 38 years old.

He still logs heavy minutes but is wearing down, and showing some signs of age. He will be a member of this D-corps until his contract is up at the end of the 2022-2023 season, at which point, I think he will seriously consider retirement.

The player he is now doesn’t fit as a future piece, unless as a role player or 3rd pairing mentor, as he will be 40 at the end of his contract, and it is likely his body won’t allow him to keep up with the standard he sets for himself. I believe he will retire at the end of his deal.

Connor Murphy, RD: Murphy has emerged as the top defensive defenseman in the ‘Hawks organization. He is clearly their best right-side defender, and has continuously improved over the last few years to become someone the coaching staff can rely on in all situations. He has great size at 6’4, 212 lbs, something the Hawks don’t have a lot of on their roster right now.

He averaged a career-best 19:31 per game of ice time, showing his ascension towards the “shutdown” D-man this team needs. He is certainly not an elite defenseman, but he is a very good one, and still has opportunity to play smarter and get better. At 28 years old, he still has a few prime years left in him.

His contract is up after the 2021-22 season, at which point the ‘Hawks will need to make a decision. Based on what he has shown he can do, I think the ‘Hawks need to build their D-corps around Murphy and other top contributors, so I view him as a Building Block for the Blackhawks Future D

Calvin DeHaan/Riley Stillman LD: I am grouping them together because I believe that one of them will be selected in the Seattle Expansion Draft, as discussed here. They are both LD, although DeHaan is comfortable playing on either side. DeHaan is a little more polished, but has an injury history. Stillman came on after his trade to the ‘Hawks, and surprised a lot of people with his defensively responsible play and decision-making.

The ‘Hawks signed Stillman to a 3-year contract extension for modest money ($1.35M per season per Cap Friendly), indicating that they view him as a future piece that can help them. He is 7 years younger than DeHaan, which leads me to believe they will push to get DeHaan selected in the expansion draft.

Stillman may not be a “traditional” top pairing guy, but I see him as a Role Player for the Hawks moving forward, and could be paired with Murphy to give them a shutdown duo in future seasons.

Adam Boqvist, RD: Boqvist was drafted early in the first round in 2018 (#8 overall), and was billed as a future star on the ‘Hawks blue line. He is projected to be a future Power Play Quarterback and a solid 200 ft defenseman. So far, he has had moments that excite you about his potential, and moments that make you wonder whether the ‘Hawks missed the boat entirely on Boqvist.

In short, he is a typical young, developing defenseman. Duncan Keith went through similar struggles early in his career, but they are different types of players. Boqvist is more the puck-moving, offensive defenseman, whereas Keith was a true 2-way D-man, even better in his own zone than in the offensive zone.

Boqvist is a Building Block Player for the organization, but he needs to make some major strides this upcoming season to deliver on the promise of his draft position and to make it clear what the ‘Hawks should do with him coming out of his entry-level contract.

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