Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman shipped out forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Penguins to fill a need with left-handed defenseman Olli Maatta on Saturday. With offseason free agent signings Dominik Kubalik and Anton Wedin pushing for roster spots along with others within the Blackhawks’ system, the forward became a group of strength to trade from for Bowman.
Kahun, who turns 24 in July, scored 13 goals and 37 points as a rookie last season while playing throughout Chicago’s lineup. With Kahun’s departure and the aforementioned players, the Blackhawks’ forward lineup is going to look different from last season.
The Blackhawks have 16 forwards currently in the organization that saw NHL playing time this past season.
Brandon Saad ($6M) — Jonathan Toews ($10.5M) — Patrick Kane ($10.5M)
Alex DeBrincat ($778,333) — Dylan Strome ($863K) — Brendan Perlini (RFA)
Drake Caggiula ($1.5M) — Artem Anisimov ($4.55M) — Dylan Sikura (RFA)
Chris Kunitz (UFA) — David Kampf (RFA) — John Hayden ($750K)
Alexandre Fortin ($706,666) — Marcus Kruger (UFA)
Luke Johnson (RFA)
Jacob Nilsson ($700K)
Will he stay or will he go now?
The Blackhawks are unlikely to re-sign Kunitz and it’s up in the air whether Kruger is brought back. According to Evolving-Hockey, the 29-year-old Kruger is projected to receive a one-year deal worth $861,030. Hayden will be competing for a roster spot, and if he doesn’t make the cut he’ll have to pass through waivers to be sent to the AHL.
Anisimov is the biggest “what if” among the group. On July 1, his 10-team modified no-trade clause goes away and the Blackhawks can trade him to any team they can strike a deal with to open up $4.55 million in salary cap space. Chicago, however, may have to retain some of the salary to make a deal.
The Blackhawks are already working on re-signing Sikura, according to Scott Powers of The Athletic. Sikura failed to score a goal in 33 NHL games, but he did create scoring chances and improved his defensive game. He finished the season in the AHL, where he scored 17 goals and 35 points in 46 games.
Kampf, viewed by some as the Kruger replacement, and Perlini are both expected to be back. Kampf with a projected $1,191,179 cap hit and Perlini at $2,093,858 — each at two years.
Johnson had one assist in 15 NHL games last season, and ranked second in goals (18) and sixth in points (31) on the IceHogs’ roster. The 2013 fifth-rounder, who can play center or wing, is also expected to come on a cheap deal at $833,499. Johnson will be among the AHL players pushing for a spot, but it wouldn’t be unrealistic to see him walk. If he returned to Rockford he’d likely be paired with center Reese Johnson on the second or third line.
Bowman has said he expects Kubalik to play in the NHL next season, and Wedin will likely contend for a spot. Both players signed one-year deals worth $925,000 this offseason. The Blackhawks acquired Kubalik’s rights in a trade with the Kings, while Wedin signed as undrafted free agent. Bowman has called Kubalik a “sniper” and Wedin should find success in a bottom-six role.
Kubalik led the National League in Switzerland in points (57), second in assists (35) and third in goals (25). At the World Championship, Kubalik finished eighth among all skaters with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 10 games. The 26-year-old Wedin had 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 32 games for Timra IK in the Swedish Hockey League. Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton is familiar with Wedin having coached against him from 2015-17 in Sweden’s second division, HockeyAllsvenskan. Colliton coached Mora IK in HockeyAllsvenskan during that span before being named the Blackhawks’ AHL coach in 2017 and promoted to the NHL job in November 2018.
Nilsson was the IceHogs MVP last season after scoring 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 61 games. Nilsson, a left-handed shot, mainly played on the top line and is a two-way player. He didn’t record a point in two NHL games this past season. He played for Colliton in Sweden and briefly with the IceHogs prior to the coaching change last November. Nilsson re-signed a one-year deal in April.
Matthew Highmore ($775,833) was projected to be one of Rockford’s top players and be an option for a call up, but had shoulder surgery last November and didn’t return until late in the season. The 23-year-old tallied nine points (three goals, six assists) in 12 games last season after posting 43 points (24 goals, 19 assists) in 64 games during the 2017-18 campaign. He had two goals in 13 NHL games in the 2017-18 season.
Drafting a forward
The Blackhawks have the No. 3 overall pick and are “leaning” toward selecting a center, a source tells Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score. The centers available at No. 3 include Dylan Cozens of WHL Lethbridge, Kirby Dach of WHL Saskatoon and Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras both of the United States National Development Program. Turcotte and Zegras are committed to play at the University of Wisconsin and Boston University, respectively, and are unlikely to break their commitments. Cozens and Dach don’t appear to be NHL-ready and will return to the WHL.
Long story short, if the Blackhawks select any one of these four players they’re not expected to factor into the NHL lineup next season.
How the lineup could look
In a small sample size of 19 games together, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews saw a 2.3-percent improvement in Corsi-For and 1.9-percent boost in scoring chances at even strength and a better goals for than against ratio (15 for vs. nine against/19 goals for and 18 against) with Caggiula than without him. Caggiula could be back on the top line or Saad could see time there to offer a better scoring touch. It’s also worth noting that a year ago no one expected Kahun to play on the top line last season, but he did so that could be an option for Kubalik.
- Second-line options
DeBrincat — Strome — Perlini
Kubalik — Strome — DeBrincat
Saad — Strome — DeBrincat
- Third-line options
Caggiula OR Kubalik OR Saad — Anisimov OR Kampf — Sikura OR Perlini
- Fourth-line options (get out your Colliton Boggle)
Caggiula/Highmore/L. Johnson/Perlini/Wedin — Highmore/Kampf/Kruger/Nilsson — Perlini/Sikura/Wedin