The Blackhawks have made a number of transactions as a whole this offseason, and the team’s lineup will look different next year.
While the majority of the Blackhawks’ large splashes have served to improve the team’s defense and goaltending, there will also be some new faces on the offensive front. From the likely return of captain Jonathan Toews to some fresh players coming in via trade, the ‘Hawks will probably have a unique combination of skaters to fill out their twelve forward spots.
What, then, will the Blackhawks’ forward lineup actually look like at the start of the 2021-22 season? One of the biggest questions will come at center. There was already a logjam at this position, and the acquisition of Tyler Johnson, another natural center, will only cause more experimenting with the lines.
However, the good news is that Johnson has played on the wing a number of times in his career. While his numbers have been falling the past few seasons, a new team could perhaps reinvigorate his offensive skills. While Tampa Bay’s forward depth caused Johnson to be relegated to the bottom six recently, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some playing time on the first or second line. Riding the wing next to Toews or Kirby Dach instead of playing center could be just what he needs.
The most interesting area to examine might end up being the Blackhawks’ bottom six trios. There were some interesting players that joined the team this offseason, and many of them will serve as depth players to help make the team stronger and harder to play against, such as Jujhar Khaira. The recently re-signed Brandon Hagel should also provide some highlight reel checks for the next three years.
Additionally, there are a number of guys who traveled between the ‘Hawks and Rockford Icehogs last year, such as MacKenzie Entwistle, that general manager Stan Bowman will likely want to utilize on the big club once again next season. Big center Henrik Borgström has not yet played a game for the Blackhawks, but he will likely get some playing time next year as well, and is someone that could easily fit into a third or fourth line center role.
Overall, the bottom six of the lineup has a lot of guys that will probably be plugged in-and-out throughout the season, especially with the number of young rookies that will likely get a look. If anything, this should just mean that head coach Jeremy Colliton will have more players to work with.
It’s hard to predict the exact lineup at any position until it starts to get closer to the preseason. However, if I had to make my best guess as to what the forward lines will look like on opening day, it would probably be something like this:
LW Alex DeBrincat C Kirby Dach RW Patrick Kane
LW Dominik Kubalik C Jonathan Toews RW Tyler Johnson
LW Brandon Hagel C Adam Gaudette RW Philipp Kurashev
LW Mike Hardman C Jujhar Khaira RW Alexander Nylander
Obviously, there are a number of variables to this lineup. For one, I could see the bottom line right wing being swapped out with either Ryan Carpenter or, if they decide not to trade him, Brett Connolly. However, assuming that Alex Nylander is ready to go next season, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get the first look at that spot.
In general, I would expect the opening night roster to be close to this, but there are always questions and issues that could arise. There could be further offseason moves to shed some additional salary, or a player could get hurt in the preseason.
However, if everything shapes out, then this might end up being what the 2021-22 Chicago Blackhawks look like up front. This is undoubtedly a much better forward core than was seen last year, and with the additional defensive help and boost in net, I’d expect a much more fun team to watch.