This is the first installment in Second City Hockey’s six-part position group preview on the Blackhawks and their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. This article focuses on NHL forwards.
Patrick Kane (RW): 81 GP, 44 G, 66 A, 49.9 CF%, 63.9 oZS%
Jonathan Toews (C): 82 GP, 35 G, 46 A, 51.2 CF%, 57.1 oZS%
Alex DeBrincat (RW): 82 GP, 41 G, 35 A, 50.3 CF%, 60.9 oZS%
If the Blackhawks want to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs under head coach Jeremy Colliton, Kane, Toews and DeBrincat will have to repeat their stellar efforts from last season when they scored 44.9-percent of Chicago’s goals. Ideally, that percentage should be lower, but it likely won’t change much this season. Colliton will give this trio every opportunity to succeed with top line minutes and as much power play time as possible.
Judging by preseason lineup decisions, Colliton is leaning toward keeping Kane and Toews together and DeBrincat on the second line. If these three can build off last season’s momentum, Chicago will once again rank in the NHL’s top 10 for goals scored.
Dominik Kubalik (RW): 50 GP, 25 G, 32 A (Switzerland’s National League)
Brandon Saad (LW): 80 GP, 23 G, 24 A, 53.1 CF%, 49.9 oZS%
Dylan Strome (C): 58 GP, 17 G, 34 A, 46.6 CF%, 58.0 oZS%
Kirby Dach (C): 62 GP, 25 G, 48 A (WHL)
With the additions of Kubalik, who was the Swiss league MVP last season, and the No. 3 overall pick in Dach, who will at least get a chance for a nine-game NHL tryout, the second tier scoring threats in Chicago’s lineup doubled from last season. Strome will continue to feed DeBrincat chances on the second line, while Saad adds versatility and a scoring touch from anywhere in the top nine. If the Blackhawks can have steady production from this group, their chances for a playoff caliber season should increase.
Andrew Shaw (RW/C): 63 GP, 19 G, 28 A, 52.7 CF%, 51.1 oZS% (Canadiens)
Drake Caggiula (LW): 26 GP, 5 G, 7 A, 49.6 CF%, 59.2 oZS%
Shaw’s return gives Chicago another forward willing to win puck battles, screen the goalie, draw penalties, knock opponents off the puck with physicality and force turnovers with tenacious forechecking and pressure on the puck carrier. Caggiula and Shaw’s skillset allows them to be able to play up and down the lineup. Whether that be Caggiula on the first line with Toews and Kane, Shaw with Strome and DeBrincat, Shaw and Caggiula taking turns on the fourth line or killing penalties. Caggiula and Shaw give the team two fearless players who are committed to driving possession and scoring.
One of general manager Stan Bowman’s goals during the offseason was to add more defensive depth to the forwards group. He did that by signing Carpenter and trading for Smith. Carpenter and Smith will aid the penalty kill, win their fair share of defensive zone faceoffs and be a reliable option to protect a lead. They will act as mentors for Kampf, who is primed to develop into an effective bottom-six center.
Time to step up
Brendan Perlini (RW): 46 GP, 12 G, 3 A, 45.2 CF%, 52.6 oZS%
Alexander Nylander (LW): 12 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 56.3 CF%, 69.1 oZS% (Sabres)
When Perlini signed a one-year deal worth $874,125, it looked a lot like a “show me” deal. After struggling with consistency in his first season with the Blackhawks, Perlini will need to demonstrate he can play his “A” game more often if he wants to be a permanent fixture in Chicago’s lineup. His speed and powerful shot led to a scoring frenzy in March. Now it’s time to stretch that into this season, because his “A” game skillset can be dangerous on the second power play (if they ever play) and from the wing in the bottom six.
Nylander has been given an opportunity to make an offensive and playmaking impact with Kane and Toews. However, during the preseason he disappeared when playing against tougher competition and Colliton opted to swap him off the top line on multiple occasions. Nylander has impressive puck-handling skills and a desirable ability to slow the game down when he has the puck on his stick, but he will be competing with Perlini for ice time, even more so if Dach stays in the NHL.
Which offseason acquisition will provide the most value to the forwards group?
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CF% - The percentage of Corsi, which is the number of shots attempts (goals, shots on net, misses or blocks), that are in Chicago’s favor when Player X or Line X is on the ice. Above 50% suggests Player X or Line X spend the majority of their time on the ice possessing the puck and generating shots and scoring chances.
oZS% - The frequency of Player X starting their shift in the offensive zone.