2019 Blackhawks training camp: 4 storylines to watch in top 6

Who will join DeBrincat, Kane, Strome and Toews?

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

Chicago had one of the most lethal top six in the NHL powered by the trio of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. They buried 44.9-percent of all the goals scored by the Blackhawks last season. Playoff aspirations for the 2019-20 campaign rely heavily on consistent production from that trio, as well as Jeremy Colliton and the coaching staff picking the right linemates to join them in the top six.

Where does Brandon Saad fit in? (Shepard)

Saad had the third-best Corsi (at 53.1-percent) and fourth-best shot share (51.3-percent) of any Blackhawk last season. Among those who played more than half the season, he was best in both categories. He’s somebody clearly capable of driving play and continued to produce, even while dragging around Artem Anisimov last season (Anisimov’s Corsi and shot share spiked from 44.7 and 43.5 percent without Saad to 55.5 and 53.6 with Saad).

So why not put Saad in a position to actually succeed? He’ll need to show he can play with either Kane and Toews or DeBrincat and Dylan Strome or some combination thereof during the preseason, but his skills both defensively and offensively should mix well with either line. Saad has arguably been the most under-looked forward since coming back from Columbus, but he could shine in a more advantageous situation with better linemates.

His 47 points last season were still slightly off from the 50-point player the Blackhawks probably thought they were getting back for Artemi Panarin, but again, considering he played a good chunk of his minutes with Anisimov, who wasn’t producing, there’s an argument to be made Saad should expect better numbers this season.

Should Toews and Kane stay together on the top line? (Matt)

Kane and Toews both reached career highs last season. Toews scored 35 goals and Kane surpassed his 2015-16 MVP season point total with 110 points.

The tandem played 568 minutes together at 5-on-5, racking up 3.6 goals, 28.8 scoring chances and 11.1 high-danger scoring chances for per 60 minutes of ice time.

Notable Duos in Top 6

PairingTOI (mins)GF/60GA/60SCF/60SCA/60HDCF/60HDCA/60OZS%
Toews - Kane5683.62.928.829.911.114.363.3
Toews - Saad4962.72.828.830.
Toews - Sikura1152.62.137.423.916.114.661.1
Kane - DeBrincat2964.94.630.231.49.512.870.8

There’s no doubting the offensive wizardry of Kane and Toews. They can cause a momentum shift or create a scoring chance with their dynamic skillset and chemistry they’ve built throughout the years.

However, would it be more auspicious to the offensive attack to split up the duo and make it harder for opposing coaches to match up against the Blackhawks top six? Plus, there are underlying stats showcasing a rise in offensive firepower when Kane and DeBrincat are paired up.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a top six looks like this to start the season:

Saad - Toews - Shaw or Dylan Sikura

DeBrincat - Strome - Kane

Then in crunch time when the offense needs a spark or there is a favorable offensive zone faceoff, Kane and Toews can reunite.

If Kane and Toews do end up together, who would make the most sense to join them on the top line? (Shepard)

There’s a few entrants in this category. Last season, Drake Caggiula got a hefty portion of the Toews and Kane linemate minutes. As stated above, Saad should get a better shot at the top six. Andrew Shaw has experience playing with both Toews and Kane and has done so well.

This preseason, all of them could get a chance. But the line has been better at moving the puck with Saad than with Caggiula, but better offensively with Caggiula, and there’s no recent data for Shaw, but there is a first line he played with from last season with Montreal:

With/Without stats - Saad, Caggiula and Shaw

LineTime On IceCorsiShot ShareGoal ShareExpected Goal ShareHigh-Danger SharePDOOff. Zone Share
Toews Kane Saad137:04:0056.4650.6134.7837.1400.91175.7
Toews Kane w/o Saad492:10:0052.25054.6946.8446.081.02261.79
Toews Kane Caggiula237:55:0051.9850.176448.8744.921.04760.74
Toews Kane w/o Caggiula391:19:0053.950.1243.5541.6944.810.96267.74
Domi Drouin Shaw306:22:0052.7751.6956.4145.2443.411.02151.35
Domi Drouin w/o Shaw326:30:0051.1749.2846.8851.98500.99154.87

Each of the three would improve the line in different ways. Saad’s offensive production with the line was likely limited by bad luck (as the .911 PDO points to), which the other two didn’t have. Regardless, training camp will be a time to sort out who gets to play with Toews and possibly Kane on that top line. All three should have an opportunity, and that competition should be good for the Blackhawks.

Shaw is the dark horse here, but Saad might be the best option in terms of all-around game.

Does Brendan Perlini join DeBrincat and Strome? (Matt)

One of the easier lineup decisions for Colliton is not breaking up DeBrincat and Strome. However, who enters the fold on the other wing is up for debate. Perlini, who signed a one-year deal Sept. 6, could be an option.

Although it was a small sample size when Colliton chose to stick Perlini with Strome and DeBrinat, the offensive results were enticing. In 13 games ranging from March to April, the trio were on the ice at 5-on-5 for 125-minutes. They scored eight goals, while allowing five, compiled a 51.7 Corsi-For rating and generated 5.4 scoring chances and 1.5 high-danger scoring chances per game.

The trio does bring a defensive risk giving up 2.4 high-danger chances against per game. Yet, if they can produce goals like the ones below on a consistent basis, then it’s worth the gamble to give them a larger sample size together.

Which top 6 storyline are you most excited to follow at training camp?

Saad’s place in the lineup88
Splitting up or keeping Toews and Kane together65
Perlini’s opportunity to earn a spot with DeBrincat and Strome43
Shaw as an option in the top six60
Other (mention in comments)18

*Advanced stats glossary - Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

GF/60 - Goals for per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5.

GA/60 - Goals against per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5.

SCF/60 - Scoring chances generated for Player X or Player X and Y’s team per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5.

SCA/60 - Scoring chances against Player X or Player X and Y’s team per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5.

HDCF/60 - High-danger scoring chances generated for Player X or Player X and Y’s team per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5.

HDCA/60 - High-danger scoring chances against Player X or Player X and Y’s team per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5.

oZS% - The frequency of Player X or Player X and Y starting their shift in the offensive zone.