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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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Apr 15, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk (48) during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk (48) during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Main Roster Defensemen (cont’d)

Wyatt Kalynuk, LD: Kalynuk was signed as a free agent when his rights with the Philadelphia Flyers expired back in July 2020. The ‘Hawks saw something in him and were convinced he could be an NHL Defenseman. He is a solid puck-mover, and clearly shows some offensive skill (4 goals, 9 points in 21 games), but like most young D, he is still developing in the defensive zone.

Kalynuk was a solid point producer in the NCAA, scoring at least 25 points in each of his 3 years at Wisconsin. He also served as a team captain in his final year, which speaks to his character and leadership potential.

The ‘Hawks do not have much offensive firepower from the left side of their defense. Keith is slowing down in that regard, and Zadorov and Stillman are both defensive-minded D-men. Kalynuk has a place on this team on the left side, and can also contribute on the offensive side.

I see Wyatt Kalynuk as a Role Player on this team moving forward, probably best suited to the third pairing for now, and depending on how things shake out, could be a 2nd pairing left-shot D-man when needed.

Nikita Zadorov, LD: Zadorov, brought over in the Brandon Saad trade with Colorado this past offseason, is a big-bodied defenseman who has the ability to deliver the big hit and intimidate the ‘Hawks opponents in the defensive zone.

He is somewhat of a rarity in the organization; a monster physically, who can affect the game by his presence on the ice alone. This type of defenseman should be defensively focused, and responsible in his own zone. However, Zadorov is inclined to want to join the rush and frequently takes himself out of position in an effort to deliver the big hit.

The role he should play with the team is different than what his salary dictates. Zadorov is reportedly looking for in excess of $5M per season, which is commensurate with a 2nd or 1st pairing D-man, but Zadorov is really more suited to be a 3rd pairing player.

I believe the Hawks need a more physical presence in their D-corps, but I do not believe Zadorov is a fit for the organization moving forward (addressed here). I believe he should be playing elsewhere next season.

Ian Mitchell, RD: Mitchell was drafted in the second round (57 overall) in the 2017 Entry Draft. The team had high hopes for him coming into his first professional season this past year, after playing for 3 seasons at the University of Denver (NCAA). He improved each season in Denver, and appeared to be ready to take the next step to professional hockey in 2020-2021.

He is built like the “offensive-minded” defensemen that have become popular in the modern NHL. Slightly under 6’0″ tall, and a solid skater and puck mover. He earned a spot on the ‘Hawks roster this past year, and played 39 games. He did get sent down for a stint in Rockford, due to some inconsistent play later in the season.

As a young defenseman, he played reasonably well, as well as experiencing significant growing pains as a professional hockey player. It is way too early to make a determination on Mitchell as a player, but he certainly raised some questions about his potential, and place within the organization.

Mitchell probably would have benefitted playing more minutes nightly in Rockford than the 15 minutes per game he averaged on the main roster. That being said, he showed some good things on offense, while struggling in his own end at times. I believe Mitchell is a future Role Player for the Hawks, a second or third pairing RD that can support on the Power Play.

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