The NHL is returning to play after a four and a half month pause. The assumption would be that all of the teams would be healthy at this time, but that is not the case for the Blackhawks. Corey Crawford, Calvin de Haan, and Connor Murphy are all not currently skating with the team. That could be a big factor in their series against the Oilers.
Before I start breaking things down here, let’s take a look at Chicago’s roster and line combinations as Tweeted out by the Athletic’s @ScottPowers:
DeBrincat – Toews – Saad
Nylander – Strome – Kane
Kubalik – Dach – Caggiula
Carpenter – Kampf – Highmore
Keith – Boqvist
Maata – Koekkoek
Carlsson – Seabrook
Seeler – Beaudin
De Haan – Murphy
Any fan avid enough to be reading any of my work will surely be familiar with the big names from Chicago’s recent glory days: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. These are not the Blackhawks of the 2010’s though. While Kane is still producing at an elite level and Toews is still an elite two-way centre, Keith and Seabrook are on the decline. Keith is still their best defenceman, but he is not among the game’s elite offensive producers among blueliners anymore. Seabrook has been healthy scratched on multiple occasions in recent seasons, which is a sure sign that time has taken its toll on him.
When I look at this roster, I see a raw team with a lot of up and coming talent that is being led by an accomplished leadership group. Alex DeBrincat has scored 40 goals in a season in the NHL already. Dylan Strome exploded when he got to Chicago, although he came back down to Earth during the season that was before the pause. Alex Nylander and Kirby Dach are also examples of promising young kids with a lot of skill on the Blackhawks.
Dach is centering a trio including himself, Dominik Kubalik and former Oiler Drake Caggiula. All three of them are fast, all three of them can get in on the forecheck, and all three can score. It’s a dangerous 3rd line that could give the Oilers fits.
When the Blackhawks are at full health, their depth on defence really stands out. Keith, Seabrook, Olli Maata, Calvin De Haan, Connor Murphy, and Adam Boqvist. It’s a mobile group with a bit of sandpaper mixed in there. However, they are not at full health. De Haan and Murphy are currently not skating with the big group. Instead, they have Slater Koekkoek and Lucas Carlsson in their top six. I see that as a noticeable downgrade.
If you have not watched Adam Boqvist play hockey, you are in for a treat in early August! He’s a dynamic defenceman. His skating and his creativity with the puck make him a joy to watch. As a fan of the opposing team, I’m hoping that he hasn’t taken another step forward during the pause. That pairing of Boqvist and Keith will get the puck moving North and they will create chances to score.
Corey Crawford has Stanley Cup championship pedigree, but he hasn’t skated with the team during Phase 3 yet! It’s cause for concern from a Chicago perspective. Malcolm Subban is already on his third team in the NHL in his young career. He has had some great moments, but he has not been able to establish himself even so much as a reliable back-up in the NHL. He might get a chance to prove me very wrong if Crawford is unable to play.
When I look at the Blackhawks, I see speed, skill, tenacity, and puck moving defencemen. If Chicago is going to win this series, then the biggest key to their success will be winning the puck possession battle. Their speed and tenacity could keep the Oilers hemmed in their own end for long periods of time, and they have the skill in their top 9 to capitalize on that. They also have the defencemen to keep the puck moving in the right direction to let the Chicago forecheck go to work.
Patrick Kane will get his points. He can only be contained for so long. It’s the Toews line and the third line that the Oilers need to be worried about. The Blackhawks depth players can outscore the Oilers depth players, which would spell trouble for Edmonton. If those things happen for the Blackhawks and they get good goaltending, then they will win the series.
Look out for my Oilers Keys to Victory against the Blackhawks next week!