Second City Hockey’s 2019-20 season preview: Blackhawks defensemen

Will some new faces lead to improved results on Chicago’s blue line?

This is the third installment in Second City Hockey’s six-part position group preview on the Blackhawks and their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. We started with the forwards Tuesday and now we move back to the blue line.

Old veterans

Duncan Keith: 82 GP, 6 G, 34 A, 50.0 CF%, 44.9 xGF%, 0.57 ZSR
Brent Seabrook: 78 GP, 5 G, 23 A, 46.8 CF%, 45.3 xGF%, 0.49 ZSR

It’s hard to come up with anything about these two players that isn’t already known. Neither have the same form that made them one of the league’s top pairings earlier this decade, but Seabrook’s decline has been far more maligned than Keith’s. Each can still be effective contributors if utilized properly, but the question remains whether or not the Blackhawks have enough talent around this duo in order to execute that strategy.

Known commodities

Connor Murphy: 52 GP, 5 G, 8 A, 48.3 CF%, 44.2 xGF%, 0.39 ZSR
Erik Gustafsson: 79 GP, 17 G, 43 A, 4 PPG, 12 PPA, 50.1 CF%, 45.5 xGF%, 0.58 ZSR
Slater Koekkoek (w/ TB & CHI): 31 GP, 2 G, 4 A, 49.4 CF%, 49.4 xGF%, 0.53 ZSR

For the second straight season, Murphy starts on injured reserve, nursing a groin injury that will keep him out for the season opener. But it appears this injury won’t be as bad as the 2018 injury that kept him from making his season debut until December. Once he returns to the lineup, though, Murphy should continue to provide the steady, reliable defensive play that’s been rare from Blackhawks defensemen during the last few seasons.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gustafsson should provide the Hawks with one of its biggest offensive sparks whenever he steps on the ice. After all, he was one of just six defensemen to crack the 60-point plateau last season. The intrigue with Gustafsson involves his contract. On an expiring deal and likely due for a raise next summer, he may end up out of Chicago’s price range. Should the Hawks be out of playoff contention come the trade deadline, Gustafsson’s services could be in high demand.

Koekkoek won a battle over Dahlstrom for the No. 7 d-man spot and shouldn’t be counted on for much more than spelling teammates in need of a break.

New guys

Calvin de Haan (w/ NYI): 74 GP, 1 G, 13 A, 55.5 CF%, 55.1 xGF%, 0.57 ZSR
Olli Maatta (w/ PIT): 60 GP, 1 G, 13 A, 46.6 CF%, 51.0 xGF%, 0.44 ZSR

In an ideal world, de Haan becomes the player Chicago hasn’t had since Niklas Hjalmarsson’s prime and Maatta teams with Seabrook for a shutdown pairing that can help free up the offensive opportunities for fellow blue-liners like Gustafsson. How well these two fit into the Chicago lineup will be one of the biggest tells of this team’s success or failures. If nothing else, these two should help improve upon a historically bad penalty kill from one season prior.

Possible reinforcements

Adam Boqvist (w/ London, OHL): 54 GP, 20 G, 40 A
Dennis Gilbert (w/ Rockford, AHL); 63 GP, 5 G, 9 A
Phillip Holm (w/ Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, KHL): 61 GP, 7 G, 19 A

Twelve defensemen suited up for the Blackhawks last season, so the seven players detailed above likely won’t be the only ones to navigate the blue line. Boqvist brings the biggest intrigue because of his high draft selection and some highlight-reel moments during the preseason. Gilbert is the polar opposite as a defensive-minded player but could receive a call-up after impressing in the preseason. Holm could be another option after an all-star season in the KHL.

And it won’t come until his college season ends in 2020, but prospect Ian Mitchell could be another name to watch.