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Second City Hockey’s 2018-19 Blackhawks preview: Forwards

Several veterans are due for a rebound, while a young newcomer will debut in the top six.

Chicago Blackhawks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Last season’s defensive shortcomings were well-documented, but the Chicago Blackhawks also struggled to put the puck in the net during the 2017-18 season. Any expectations of a rebound will likely require the team to score more than 229 goals, tied for the team’s lowest output since 2006-07.

The top scoring threat

Patrick Kane 82 GP, 27 G, 49 A, 51.59 CF% on 63.52 OZS%
Brandon Saad 82 GP, 18 G, 17 A, 56.7 CF% on 60.2 OZS%
Nick Schmaltz 78 GP, 21 G, 31 A, 51.9 CF% on 64.1 OZS%

Coach Joel Quenneville hinted at the possibility of this forward combination at the team’s fan convention in July and that appears to be the plan to open the season, based on practice this week. This might be the most dynamic offensive line Chicago can produce and seems to boast the talent that can carry a team through large chunks of the regular season. Saad’s always been a possession-driving player, even last season, when the results weren’t there in spite of the process still functioning properly. Kane and Schmaltz built a chemistry during their copious amounts of ice time together last season and should benefit from having the puck even more because of Saad’s abilities. The success or failure of this team will likely hinge on whatever this line can generate — for however long Quenneville keeps it together.

The other scoring threat (hopefully)

Alex DeBrincat 82 GP, 28 G, 24 A, 54.3 CF% on 58.9 OZS%
Dominik Kahun (w/ EHC Red Bull) 42 GP, 12 G, 29 A
Jonathan Toews 74 GP, 20 G, 32 A, 56.8 CF% on 57.3 OZS%

And if the above line falters at times, then this combination will need to pick up the slack — and it also has the potential to do so. DeBrincat is coming off of a breakout 28-goal performance during his rookie season. Toews, like Saad, had positive possession numbers across the board despite those analytics not resulting in goals and assists. He’s also looked a step quicker during his brief preseason time. Kahun is the real wild card here. The Czech native can certainly fly, as he showed during the preseason. The question is how well he can play with the puck at that high rate of speed and if the skills that worked so well in Europe can translate to the NHL. If they do, this line could dominate. If not ... Quenneville will probably have it broken up by Halloween.

The defensive forward

Marcus Kruger (w/ Carolina) 48 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 54.0 CF% on 44.8 OZS%

A reminder: Kruger’s game is all about defense. Kruger’s offensive output usually hovered in the high teens or low-20s during his time in Chicago, but just about any offensive contributions he makes are bonus points. After a strange season in Carolina, Kruger will likely return to his typical Blackhawks role: handling a high percentage of defensive zone faceoffs while facing the opposing team’s top scoring threat. He handled it admirably during his first stint with Chicago, and his ability to do it again could help alleviate the offensive burden off of other centers — Toews, most prominently.

Everyone else

Artem Anisimov 72 GP, 20 G, 11 A, 49.9 CF% on 52.8 OZS%
John Hayden 47 GP 4 G, 9 A, 47.69 CF% on 44.37 OZS%
Luke Johnson (w/ Rockford) 73 GP, 13 G, 17 A
David Kampf 46 GP, 4 G, 7 A, 51.6 CF% on 46.0 OZS%
Chris Kunitz 82 GP, 13 G, 16 A, 50.2 CF% on 46.8 OZS%
Andreas Martinsen 9 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 53.2 CF% on 29.46 OZS%

Chicago’s depth forwards could leave a lot to be desired this season. In a league that keeps getting faster, this list isn’t teeming with players who are fleet of foot (or skate, I guess). Two of the above players will get to join Kruger on a defense-first line, while the other three will form the other line to round out Chicago’s lineup. As of Wednesday’s morning practice, that third line was Kunitz-Anisimov-Kampf, which is ... something. Johnson’s presence at the NHL level is the surprise of training camp, and he should thrive in a bottom-six role. But there’s little to no offensive punch out of this group, which is why the Blackhawks will likely be relying heavily on their top two lines for points.