By the end of the month, the Blackhawks will be playing hockey again.
Yeah! Even if it’s preseason only, and so it sort of feels like it’s not real, the Blackhawks will be on the ice. That means fans will get to see all of the new players suit up, as well as who ends up on the opening night roster. Among all of the possible players, do the Blackhawks have anyone that looks poised to really blow up this year? A short article from NBC’s Adam Gretz doesn’t have a single Blackhawk on the list. Is this justified?
I couldn’t help but wonder about the state of the team as the season closes in. Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks are a better team now than they were at the close of the 2020-21 season. Yes, there will be talented young players, such as Lukas Reichel, joining the team. Yes, there is a good chance that Jonathan Toews will be back with the team. However, it’s not clear who among the players is really going to have a breakout year.
It’s hard to look at the players that did make Gretz’s list and not see where anyone from Chicago could have been slotted in. Since almost everyone in Chicago is going to need a new contract soon, I’d imagine the lineup from top-to-bottom is going to be very motivated. Not to mention, some of the younger guys will need to start stepping up and taking the reins from what’s left of the old guard.
In fact, all eyes will probably be focused on the younger players, but the team that takes the ice for Chicago is probably better now than most critics are willing to give it credit for being. The NHL’s official stats for 2020-21 had:
Patrick Kane, 6th overall for scoring. 3rd overall for assists
Alex DeBrincat, 3rd overall for goals
Marc-Andre Fleury was 3rd overall for GAA (1.98), SV% (.928), and shutouts (6)
Brandon Hagel even made it 9th among top rookies for his 24 points.
Pius Suter fared even better than Hagel, but he plays for Detroit now so we’ll just pretend like he doesn’t exist. What’s missing from this list? Defense. However, Chicago improved there as well. Unfortunately, none of their current blueliners ranked among the NHL’s best in point production.
(Despite all this, we need a different metric for determining the value of a defenseman. If you’re measuring forwards and defenders with the same metrics, points, goals, and assists for success then something is off. I digress…)
It’s unlikely any of Chicago’s d-men lead the rankings offensively, but if they make life difficult for opposing teams and can manage to facilitate clean defensive zone exits, then that’s progress from last year.
Regardless, Chicago is a better team this year, and probably by a large margin. (I hope. Fingers crossed.) Playoffs? Maybe. There are even talented young players, such as Alec Regula on the verge of breaking through as well. Even if the Blackhawks don’t necessarily boast a player that appears to make the biggest strides this year, Chicago is still in a position to succeed.