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2019 Blackhawks training camp: 4 storylines to watch in bottom 6

Who has a role in the bottom six locked up? Where does Dominik Kubalik fit?

Ottawa Senators v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

The second of a three-part series from Second City Hockey discussing key storylines to follow at the Blackhawks training camp.

The lineup decisions surrounding the bottom six are a bit more convoluted than in the top six. According to general manager Stan Bowman, Swiss league MVP Dominik Kubalik is expected to play in the NHL, it’s just a matter of where and with which linemates. A handful of prospects are also knocking on the door: Kirby Dach, Matthew Highmore, Alexandre Fortin and Philipp Kurashev to name a few.

Plus, offseason additions Aleski Saarela, John Quenneville and Anton Wedin have an opportunity, while Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith seem to be locks. Then there’s Dylan Sikura, who spent time with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad in the top six last season, but could get bounced out of a roster spot with a poor performance at camp and in preseason action.

Here are four storylines in the bottom six to follow during training camp:

Where does Dominik Kubalik fit? Does he fit? (Shepard)

Kubalik has never played a game in the NHL. He hasn’t played a game in North America since 2014, when he was with Kitchener in the OHL. But that’s OK because the guy he’s most likely replacing didn’t either.

When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Penguins, fans were upset. It makes some sense, considering the 13-goal, 37-point performance Kahun during his rookie season, and his first season back in North America since 2013-14 (coincidentally, both Dominiks started that season with Sudbury before Kubalik was traded). Kahun came over from Germany, and performed admirably, bouncing around the top nine.

That’s where Kubalik will likely play as well. He’ll most likely get a chance to start the season as a winger on the third line, alongside whoever loses the top six battle between Brendan Perlini, Andrew Shaw and Saad. Kubalik’s stats were more impressive (25 goals and 57 points in 50 games vs. 12 and 41 in 42) in a more impressive league (the Swiss National League or NLA) than Kahun, so Blackhawks fans should have hope for the new Dominik.

This training camp will be a chance for Kubalik to prove he belongs. He’ll be one of the main players to watch in this season’s bottom six, and if he makes the team, can be a player who can add crucial depth scoring.

Who should center the fourth line? (Matt)

With the departure of Marcus Kruger to the ZSC Lions in the Swiss league, the fourth-line center role is up for grabs. There’s likely three options: David Kampf, Carpenter and Smith. It’s a vital role for someone who is expected to be defensively sound, above-average at winning draws and skilled at penalty killing.

2018-19 season stats

Name FO Win % Takeaways Giveaways Hits Blocks CF% TOI_QoC% PK TOI (mins)
Name FO Win % Takeaways Giveaways Hits Blocks CF% TOI_QoC% PK TOI (mins)
Ryan Carpenter 52.6 30 17 126 17 58.1 28.3 85
David Kampf 45.3 31 6 39 30 48.6 28.6 117
Zack Smith 49.1 42 47 136 27 44.6 29.1 128

Based on stats, Carpenter is best suited for the role. He has a career 50.6 faceoff winning percentage, drives possession (career 54.7 Corsi-For rating) is not afraid to throw his body around and force mistakes with checks and is primed to make a positive impact on the penalty kill.

If top prospect Kirby Dach does end up making the roster, it makes Carpenter’s role as the fourth line center even more likely.

Is Drake Caggiula better suited for a bottom six role? (Matt)

After Caggiula arrived in January via trade, he bounced around the lineup until he found a home with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in 19 games ranging from late January to April. They scored 15 goals, while giving up nine, averaged 5.9 scoring chances and 2.8 high-danger chances for per game. Caggiula offered physicality and a relentless drive to win puck battles and get to the front of the net, which opened up space for his linemates to drive possession in the offensive zone and create scoring chances.

It was reminiscent of Shaw’s first stint with the Blackhawks. Saad and Shaw are likely the best bets to earn a spot in the top six pushing Caggiula into the bottom six. It shouldn’t be looked at as a demotion, but rather a transition into a role where his skillset can flourish even more. He could be an intriguing option as a fourth-line winger for Carpenter.

Who grabs the 13th forward spot and why is it Dylan Sikura? (Shepard)

Operating under the assumption the lineup this season will start out something like this with a couple options for center in the third and fourth lines:

Saad — Toews — Kane
DeBrincat — Strome — Shaw
Kubalik — Dach/Kampf/Carpenter — Perlini
Caggiula — Carpenter/Kampf — Smith

That leaves a few players out in the cold. The growing list includes (at least) Fortin, Highmore, Quenneville, Saarela, Sikura and Wedin, among others. So who will be the extra forward, the one who gets a shot at some games, and another opportunity to prove they belong in the NHL?

None of the listed forwards scored more goals last season than Saarela, who put up 30 goals in the AHL’s regular season with the Charlotte Checkers. Highmore looked like he had solid potential, but missed most of last season due to a shoulder injury. Wedin was likely promised a chance to contend for a spot, but with Kubalik also starting his first pro North American season, there may only be room for one of them.

Nobody fits this team better than Sikura. Yes, the guy with 0 NHL goals in 38 career NHL games. For one simple reason — he’s the best defensive forward the Blackhawks have. Especially on a team that continues to need skater defense and with a GM who made it a priority this offseason, Sikura’s skill set remains more vital than any of the more offensively-minded forwards.

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill ranked dead last in 2018-19, a serious problem Sikura could help with. With the amount of offensive talent this Blackhawks’ roster has, carrying a defensive specialist — Sikura had 3.1 even-strength goals above replacement last season according to Evolving Hockey (again, without a goal) and .12 defensive WAR the last two seasons according to Corsica (in the same time span, Toews had a -1.46) — couldn’t hurt.

Plus, that 0.00 shooting percentage can’t last forever. He’s probably due.


Which bottom 6 storyline are you most excited to follow at Blackhawks camp?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Kubalik’s role and placement in the lineup
    (53 votes)
  • 3%
    Competition for the 13th forward spot
    (6 votes)
  • 57%
    Construction of the third and fourth lines with new additions Carpenter and Smith
    (90 votes)
  • 3%
    Caggiula’s potential fit on the fourth line
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (mention in comments)
    (3 votes)
157 votes total Vote Now

*Advanced stats glossary - All advanced stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference, Evolving Hockey and Corsica-Hockey

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.

TOI%_QoC - The weighted average TOI% of opponents that Player X has to defend at even strength. If Player X is frequently defending against the top 6 forward group of the opposing team, their TOI%_QoC is right around or above 29.0-percent. If Player X is consistently defending bottom 6 forwards from the opponent, their TOI%_QoC is closer to 28.0 and below.