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Blackhawks 2021-22 season preview: Bottom-six forwards

Last season’s breakout player, Brandon Hagel, leads this group.

NHL: APR 12 Blackhawks at Blue Jackets Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the first game of the Chicago Blackhawks 2021-22 season just one day away, it’s time to start examining the players who’ll be taking the ice for the Blackhawks this season. Next up, it’s the bottom-six forwards.

While the Blackhawks top-six forward group is set in stone for the most part, the bottom-six group offers some food for thought for the Hawks, heading into the 2021-22 season. So, let’s dive into the Blackhawks’ projected bottom-six:

Kirby Dach

Stats last season: 18 games, 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists), 4 PIM, 26 SOG, 7.7 S%, 18:34 ATOI

Kirby Dach was projected to land a top-line role. However, his career trajectory has been nerfed by pandemic-shortened seasons and injury. His development over the course of a full 82-game season will be a key thing to watch as the Hawks need Dach to ascend to his full potential to keep their playoff hopes — present and future — alive. With the acquisition of Tyler Johnson, as well as Jonathan Toews’ return, Dach slides down to the number three center role. This may not be the case for the whole season, though, as coach Jeremy Colliton has been known to get his line blender out frequently.

Dach’s stats are pulled from a small sample size, however, 33 points over 82 games isn't exactly earth-shattering stuff coming from a former No. 3 overall pick. He did show a bit of what he can do during the Hawks first round exit versus a very good Vegas Golden Knights team in the 2020 playoffs, which was encouraging. If Dach can put on a bit of muscle and continue to work on his game, expect to see him finding the back of the net, winning board battles and faceoffs and playing on both special teams units.

Brandon Hagel

Stats last season: 52 games, 24 points (9 goals, 15 assists), 11 PIM, 91 SOG, 9.9 S%, 13:59 ATOI

In a season when fans were mostly not permitted to attend games, Brandon Hagel transitioned through televisions screens and into the hearts of Hawks fans, becoming a fan favorite in no time. It’s easy to see why: Hagel’s tremendous speed, paired with a solid awareness and hockey IQ has allowed him to jump into plays and make an impact, no matter the situation. He’s versatile and can skate with just about anyone. Hagel is the type of player a team needs on their depth chart in order to make deep playoff runs.

Hagel’s speed complimented the Hawks transition offense, as he managed all 9 of his goals and 11 assists playing at even strength. The biggest hole in his game in 2021 was his shot. However, if preseason counts for anything, it seems that Hagel may have been in the lab addressing that issue in the offseason.

Adam Gaudette

Stats last season (Split between Vancouver and Chicago): 40 games, 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists), 12 PIM, 66 SOG, 7.6 S%, 11:07 ATOI

While seen as a bit of a reclamation project, Adam Guadette may be more of an unknown commodity than anything, an uncertain potential that wasn’t tapped in Vancouver. The big question mark is if he will he be able to put his talents on display with the Blackhawks.

While his career numbers are nothing to write home about, it seems that Gaudette may actually thrive while playing more of a checking-line role than anything else. In the past, he’s been able to create takeaways, draw penalties, give and take hits and block shots. At the faceoff dot, his numbers are surprisingly better than expected at 41.1 percent overall but always over 50 percent in the offensive zone. Between zone starts and chemistry with regular line mates, consistency is going to be the key for Gaudette over the course of the ‘21-22 season.

Ryan Carpenter

Stats last season: 40 games, 5 points (4 goals, 1 assists), 19 PIM, 51 SOG, 7.8 S%, 12:41 ATOI

While not known for his scoring prowess, Carpenter is a dependable defensive-minded center who will likely being filling the fourth line center role previously handled by David Kampf. Even though Carpenter was mostly handed defensive zone starts in 2021, he still finished with a faceoff win percentage of 48.41. He saw some time on specials teams as well, even being rewarded with a power play goal. Carpenter can play on the wing as well but it will likely benefit both him and the Hawks if he is kept at center.

Henrik Borgstrom

2019-18 season stats (with Floirda): 50 games, 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists), 4 PIM, 54 SOG, 14.8 S%, 12:00 ATOI

Like other Blackhawks newcomers, Henrik Borgstrom is looking to put something together in Chicago. The former No. 23 overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft did not find much success as a member of the Florida Panthers.

Borgstrom’s natural position is center but he’ll likely be playing on the wing more often than not when he factors into the Hawks lineup. In ‘18-19, his only NHL season of note, Borgstrom managed a face-off win percentage of 55.85 while getting 60.71 percent offensive zone starts. His expected goals share percentage of 45.55 paired with a 44.12 high danger chance for percentage says that, at very least, offense is being created with Borgstrom on the ice. It may take some time to find the best usage for him but Borgstrom is only 24 years old heading into the ‘21-22 season. There’s still time for him to put it together.

Jujhar Khaira

Stats last season (with Edmonton): 40 games, 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists), 42 PIM, 41 SOG, 7.3 S%, 12:03 ATOI

Another fresh face, Khaira signed with the Blackhawks this past offseason after a five-year stint with the Oilers. Overall, Khaira is a pretty good skater who can be useful on a fourth-line role as well as on special teams. He’s not much of an offensive player, however (63 points in 258 career games). His lack of offensive production paired with his tendency to find himself in the sin bin may hinder his chances to crack the lineup. Khaira is a big body who can absorb hits and protect the puck. If he can stay disciplined and stay out of the penalty box, he could find himself in a useful checking-line role.

MacKenzie Entwistle

Stats last season (with Rockford): 22 games, 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists), 8 PIM, 35 SOG, 11.4 S%

The 22-year-old Entwistle has yet to play a full season in the NHL. He managed one goal and one assist in five games with the Blackhawks last season, but spent most of his time in the AHL. Entwistle may have to transition to less of an offensive role in the NHL than he was used during his OHL and AHL stints, but his skating and skill set should allow him to find some success in a bottom-six role. He plays a responsible two-way game but will need to make the most of his ice time as there will be a lot of competition to crack the Hawks lineup between the third and fourth line players.

What will the bottom-six look like

It’s hard to say what the Hawks bottom-six will look like for sure, although Tuesday’s practice did offer some insight:

They will probably have a better idea after the first quarter of the season and it’s possible that both Dylan Strome and Tyler Johnson could bounce between the top-six and the third line. Coach Colliton doesn’t exactly build lines for gaining favorable matchups, so if there is an entire lack of a checking line all together, that may be favorable for more offensive forwards to crack the lineup.

The assumption is that the Hawks may roll out something along these lines:

Henrik Borgstrom — Kirby Dach — Brandon Hagel/Adam Gaudette

Jujhar Khaira/Dylan Strome — Mackenzie Entwistle — Ryan Carpenter

It will definitely take some time to figure out but the Blackhawks have a lot of options at forward.