The injuries started piling up before training camp even started.
Both of those players were expected to be key members of Chicago’s forward lines in the upcoming 2021 season. Without those two available, how will the Blackhawks line up at forward starting in January? Let’s find out.
Replacing Dach in the top six
After an impressive postseason, Dach looked destined for a top-six role this season. Without him in the lineup, the Blackhawks still have four forwards who should occupy spots on the top two lines: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dominik Kubalik and Alex DeBrincat. Dylan Strome figures to be added to this list whenever he signs a new contract.
Two of the Blackhawks offseason forward signings — Mattias Janmark and Lucas Wallmark — don’t appear to be legitimate top-six options:
- Janmark’s best season was in ‘17-18, scoring 34 points in 81 games with Dallas
- Wallmark’s highest career output was just 28 points in 81 games with the ‘18-19 Hurricanes
There are a few options with some other recent acquisitions, though.
After posting numbers during the ‘19-20 season (30 goals, 23 assists in 50 games) that were similar to the ‘18-19 season (25 goals, 32 assists in 50 games) that earned Dominik Kubalik an NHL contract, Suter could benefit from Kubalik’s success and be given a chance to earn a spot somewhere in Chicago’s top two forward lines.
Suter is listed as a center on the Blackhawks roster but also has spent time as left wing. That versatility suggests he could handle either role in Chicago, making the Blackhawks’ top six look something like this:
Kubalik — Toews — Kane
DeBrincat — Suter — Strome
A veteran of eight NHL seasons, Soderberg has three 40-point seasons in his career and peaked with 51 points while playing in all 82 games with the ‘15-16 Avalanche. Last season, Soderberg was on pace to crack 40 points again (35 points in 70 games) before the regular season was halted in mid-March. It’s worth noting that Soderberg turned 35 in October, though, so it’s possible his best offensive days are behind him and a top-six role will no longer suit him.
If the Blackhawks want to give it a shot, though, Soderberg would likely slot in as the 2C, with his defensively responsible play a good counter to the offensively geared styles of Kane and DeBrincat.
Kubalik — Toews — Strome
DeBrincat — Soderberg — Kane
The bottom six
Nylander was probably destined for a third-line role given his dismal end to the 2020 postseason as a healthy (or, in hindsight, not so healthy) scratch. Even with Nylander removed, though, the outlook is significantly less clear for this part of the lineup. It seems like the Blackhawks would start the 2021 season with its fourth line from the 2020 postseason intact: David Kampf centering Ryan Carpenter and Matthew Highmore. That leaves a plethora of players available to fill out the third line.
There’s the aforementioned duo of Wallmark and Janmark. There’s a pair of veterans possibly returning from 2020 injuries in Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith. There’s a slew of younger players who could receive extra attention given the Blackhawks’ organizational focus on that demographic, which includes Evan Barratt, Philipp Kurashev, Michal Teply, Mackenzie Entwistle, Cam Morrison, Matej Chalupa, Brandon Hagel and more. One of the Soderberg/Suter combo mentioned above will also be factored into this race.
With just over a week of training camp, it’s possible the first trio that takes the ice as the third line next Monday will be the same one that opens the season on Jan. 13 in Tampa Bay. Finding the proper combination seems like an uphill climb at this point, though.