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2019 Blackhawks training camp: 4 storylines to watch for defensemen

Can Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta stabilize the penalty kill? Who will earn the seventh defenseman role?

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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

Following a season of defensive lapses and d-zone turnovers that led to most high-danger chances allowed (486) and second highest goals against (291), general manager Stan Bowman acquired reinforcements in the offseason. He traded for two left-handed defensemen: Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan from the Penguins and Hurricanes, respectively. With a full training camp under Jeremy Colliton, de Haan and Maatta stabilizing the back end with much needed defensive-minded skillsets and prospects Adam Boqvist, Lucas Carlsson and Dennis Gilbert pushing for playing time, the outlook on defense looks brighter on paper.

Here are four storylines on defensemen to watch during training camp and preseason:

Ideal penalty kill pairings (Shepard)

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill ranked last in the NHL last season, and part of it was the defense not executing. It’s a big part of why the Blackhawks acquired Maatta and de Haan. Connor Murphy being healthy again will also play a role on the penalty kill, as he’ll likely take an expanded role. So, what are the best potential pairings? Who make the most sense together? Who should be playing on the penalty kill?

PK stats

Player Time on Ice Corsi Shot Share Goals Against Expected Goals Again xGA/60 xGF% High Danger Chances Against HDCA/60 HDCF% oZS% ToI_QoT ToI_QoC
Player Time on Ice Corsi Shot Share Goals Against Expected Goals Again xGA/60 xGF% High Danger Chances Against HDCA/60 HDCF% oZS% ToI_QoT ToI_QoC
Maatta 121:13:00 20.44 28.35 11 10.74 5.32 22.89 23 11.39 43.9 3.03 39.09 50.1
Murphy 108:48:00 12.38 15.33 20 14.31 7.91 15.33 52 28.73 16.13 2.56 35.86 51.59
De Haan 147:22:00 16.27 19.86 20 16.21 6.59 15.29 63 25.61 20.25 5 32.81 48.36
Keith 166:22:00 9.88 10.55 31 24.78 8.95 11.24 80 28.88 9.09 2.68 36.03 49.53
Seabrook 166:01:00 12.53 14.48 29 25.24 9.11 12.44 87 31.41 13 1.72 36.78 50.84
Koekkoek 38:03:00 5.88 4.76 7 5.05 8.02 2.43 21 33.33 0 3.7 36.46 49.62

The Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook pairing has expired in its usefulness, especially on the penalty kill, and they should be separated, and one of them should no longer be playing shorthanded minutes. That’s probably Seabrook, who should be lowered to the third pairing and play only even strength minutes. Slater Koekkoek was better last season and should perhaps play minutes when one of the other four are out.

The first pairing on the penalty kill should likely be Maatta and Murphy. Maatta was capable moving the puck on the penalty kill and limited offensive chances to the opposing power play. Murphy played tough minutes against tough opponents with little help and did well, but could use a better puck moving partner like Maatta.

The second should include Keith, mainly because it has to. The Blackhawks’ six defensemen this season will likely be de Haan, Keith, Maatta, Murphy, Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson in some order and... Gustafsson is not playing penalty kill minutes. Instead, Keith should be paired with de Haan, who was also capable of limiting offensive chances while playing against limited competition. If de Haan is going to see an increase in that competition, he’ll need a partner with experience like Keith, at least for a while. Before de Haan is healthy, however, Keith-Koekkoek may make more sense than Keith-Seabrook.

Can Boqvist make this team? (Shepard)

It’s going to be a challenge for Boqvist to be anywhere but Rockford this season, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t up to it. Boqvist was elected to the OHL’s second all-star team in his first season in North America, and his 20 goals in 54 regular-season games were third amongst defensemen, first amongst rookie defensemen, and Boqvist had the top goals per game pace.

It’s going to be hard for any defensemen on this roster, except perhaps Gustafsson, to best Boqvist offensively. There’s still adjustments Boqvist will need to make defensively, however, and his 54 goals against at even strength in the OHL could have been better (though his 56.8 percent goal share would have been best on Chicago’s roster).

Still, there’s a large crowd ahead of Boqvist. De Haan, Gustafsson, Keith, Maatta and Murphy all look like lock to play. Seabrook makes too much money ($6.875 million) not to at least be the seventh defenseman. That leaves one spot, and Boqvist, Koekkoek and Carl Dahlstrom all fighting for it. It’s in the Blackhawks’ best interest to give Boqvist a competitive edge in that battle, but there’s also advantages to him playing in the AHL first.

There are more than enough defensive defensemen to support Boqvist, but the Blackhawks may not be willing to take the risk when they’re seeking to be competitive again.

Who should be the seventh defenseman? (Matt)

If Boqvist does make the roster out of camp, Dahlstrom and Koekkoek will have to be placed on waivers to be sent down to Rockford allowing opposing teams to pick them up. Having defensive depth, especially players with NHL experience, is an important characteristic of a successful team. With that in mind, it’s unlikely those two are placed on waivers to start the season to make room for Boqvist, unless he completely blows the competition away in camp.

It will be more beneficial to Boqvist’s development for him to start in the AHL, play in all situations and get top-four minutes. If that’s the case, then it’s up to Dahlstrom or Koekkoek to earn the role.

Dahlstrom and Koekkoek had their ups and downs last season. Dahlstrom had a handful of games paired up with Murphy where they looked like a potential shutdown pairing, but was plagued with inconsistency. On the other hand, Koekkoek had a 13-game stretch between February and March, when he averaged 16:42-minutes of ice time, four assists, 19 hits, 23 blocks and a plus-two rating. Like Dahlstrom, he was also afflicted with inconsistency and ended up a healthy scratch in 14 of 36 games after his Jan. 11 call up.

Based on last season’s high-danger chances allowed and even strength goals against per game rate, Koekkoek has the upper hand. The preseason will provide hints at which defenseman coach Jeremy Colliton favors, but Koekkoek looks the part for the role.

What will Seabrook’s role look like? (Matt)

Last season was the first time in Seabrook’s 14-year NHL career his average time on ice slipped under 20-minutes at 19:06. There’s no doubting his leadership skills and legacy, but it’s clear his defensive skillset is declining:

Not good.

Seabrook had the lowest Corsi-For and scoring chances for rate among Blackhawks defensemen at 46.8- and 44.7-percent respectively, meaning he was consistently on the ice chasing the puck and defending against shots and scoring chances.

However, he does offer a booming shot, which is useful on offensive zone draws and power plays. Plus, he was the team’s most physical defenseman with 124 hits and led the way with 180 blocks.

Seabrook’s average ice time will slip even further to 17 or 18 minutes with less even strength playing time, but he’ll continue his physical presence and as one of the quarterbacks of the second power-play unit that had a shoot first, look for tips mentality last season.


Which defensemen storyline are you most excited to follow during training camp?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    PK units
    (53 votes)
  • 47%
    Boqvist’s chance to make team
    (133 votes)
  • 20%
    Seabrook’s role
    (57 votes)
  • 10%
    Seventh defenseman competition
    (29 votes)
  • 3%
    Other (mention in comments)
    (9 votes)
281 votes total Vote Now