As the League inches closer towards a potential restart, Second City Hockey will begin recapping the regular season, examining the Blackhawks storylines that unfolded during the 70 games of the 2019-20 regular season. Up first are a group of forwards who’ll likely be rounding out the third and fourth lines for Chicago should games resume in the upcoming weeks.
Drake Caggiula (40 GP, 9 G, 6 A, 48.57 CF%, 48.38 xGF%)
When healthy this season, Caggiula has been the type of versatile forward slotting up and down the lineup that may ultimately replace the potentially forced-to-retire Andrew Shaw. Caggiula is likely at his best in the bottom six but also wasn’t entirely out of place when put on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in January. The bulk of his 15 points this season came in that stretch, including a five-point binge in four games.
Injuries are the main concern, though. Caggiula missed two months with a concussion sustained in November — his second concussion within a year — and injured his hand during a fight in March, just before the season was paused. At an affordable cap hit of $1.5 million, Caggiula can be the prototypical depth forward that Chicago needs to round out the bottom of its lineup — if he can stay on the ice.
David Kampf (70 GP, 8 G, 8 A, 46.99 CF%, 46.51 xGF%, 40.57 oZS%)
There’s little mystery to Kampf’s game: its main focus and his key contributions come on the defensive side of the ice. In two games against the Chicago Blackhawks this season, Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid has no points. At least some of the credit for that must go to Kampf, as an examination of Natural Stat Trick’s shift charts from the Blackhawks 3-1 win over the Oilers at home on Oct. 14 suggests that coach Jeremy Colliton matched Kampf’s line with McDavid as often as possible (in the March 5 win over Edmonton, it was typically the Toews’ line on the ice against McDavid). Kampf’s prowess as a defensive forward gives Colliton options when assembling his gameplan for the upcoming series with the Edmonton McDavids. Successful containment of Edmonton’s star player by Kampf could free up more time for Toews, Kane, etc. to focus on the offensive side of the ice. Leon Draisaitl remains a scoring threat as well, but Kampf’s defensive work could be a crucial series X-factor.
Matthew Highmore (36 GP, 2 G, 4 A, 47.68 CF%, 44.76 xGF%)
After an injury-plagued ‘18-19 season, Highmore scored 12 points in 21 games for the Rockford IceHogs at the start of this season, earning an NHL promotion around Thanskgiving and becoming a fixture on Chicago’s fourth line for much of the season. Colliton has always seemed fond of Highmore’s potential, as indicated by this comment from January:
Colliton was asked about the Hawks' young generation by a Toronto reporter, and in his answer, Colliton named:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) January 17, 2020
Thought that final inclusion was interesting.
With another season remaining on his entry-level contract, Highmore will likely continue to be part of the lineup for the present and short-term future. It appears that Highmore has emerged from what was a significant logjam of depth forwards that had assembled at the start of training camp. However, with Highmore typically skating on the Blackhawks’ fourth line, the buffer between him and a return trip to the AHL will remain thin.
Brandon Hagel (AHL - 59 GP, 19 G, 12 A; NHL - 1 GP, 0 G, 0 A)
After a call-up in January where he was a healthy scratch for three games, Hagel made his NHL debut on March 11 during what proved to be Chicago’s final game of the pandemic-shortened regular season. In Rockford, Hagel was the IceHogs’ leading goal scorer with his speed as the primary asset. He flashed that pace briefly in his NHL debut, skating 11:48 against the San Jose Sharks with four shots on goal, providing an element (speed) that the Blackhawks are still lacking in their lineup. It took a rash of injuries to get Hagel into the NHL lineup but, after a productive season in Rockford, he could be in consideration for a bottom-six role in the upcoming series.