Blackhawks 2022-23 season preview: Top-six Forwards

Our final season preview piece focuses on the forwards at the top of Chicago’s lineup.

With the first game of the 2022-23 NHL season happening Wednesday night, we finish up our season preview by looking at the top-six forwards.

Some new faces and some old faces will in the Blackhawks’ top-six this season. Without further ado, let’s get into it:

Andreas Athanasiou

Stats last season: 28 games, 27 points (11 G, 6 A), 4 PIM, 71 shots, 15.5 SH%, 15:14 ATOI

Athanasiou is probably more of a third-liner on most NHL teams, but circumstances are as such in Chicago that he’ll likely garner top-six minutes all season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because Athanasiou does a lot of things well:

The one caveat here is that the data is from a limited sample, because injuries and COVID protocol stints meant that Athanasiou played just 28 games last season. But some of the numbers above are quite enticing, especially the fact that he was in the top 10 percent of the league in the rate at which Athanasiou scored goals — his rate of 1.55 goals per 60 was even better than Alex DeBrincat’s 1.44. Again, small sample, but it’s indicative of the offensive talent here.

The easiest thing to notice about Athanasiou is his speed — and that cannot be overstated. Athanasiou might be one of the fastest skaters in the entire NHL. He also has decent hands, too, which means he can do things like this when that package is put together:

Health is probably the biggest concern with Athanasiou. He played 76 games with the Detroit Red Wings in the 2018-19 season, racking up a career-high 54 points (30 G, 24 A). But he’s only played 121 of a possible 200 regular-season games in the last three seasons.

At 28 years old, Athanasiou is not a long-term piece for the Blackhawks, so his value will be in how much of a return he can fetch at the deadline next March. Should he stay on the ice, that could be a decent return.

And, if nothing else, it could be fun to watch No. 89 skate circles around opponents this season.

Max Domi

Stats last season: 72 games, 39 points (11 G, 28 A), 18 PIM, 27 shots, 7.4 SH%, 13:25 ATOI

Similar to Athanasiou, Domi is here on a one-year deal with the potential to be a valuable addition to a Cup-contending team at the trade deadline while also giving Domi a chance to cash in during free agency next summer should he flourish in Chicago.

Over the summer, we explored his 2018-19 season with the Montreal Canadiens that showed Domi’s potential, when he set career-highs in goals (28), assists (44), points (72), shot percentage (13.8) and average ice time (17:23). Domi’s most common linemate that season — Andrew Shaw — was traded back to Chicago in the following offseason and Domi never clicked with any other Canadiens as well as he did with Shaw. Domi then slowly tumbled down the lineup until he was shipped out of town. Domi did have a moment with the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, too, scoring three points in a Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins.

With virtually no other competition for that spot on the Blackhawks roster, Domi could be locked in as the Blackhawks No. 1 center all season, which should mean healthy amounts of ice time with Patrick Kane. If Domi rediscovers the form from that career-best season in Montreal, Domi could end up above the now world-famous “Brouwer Line” by the 2023 trade deadline.

Tyler Johnson

Stats last season: 26 games, 7 points (3 G, 4 A), 12 PIM, 30 shots, 10 SH%, 12:58 ATOI

Johnson’s best years are likely behind him, as he turned 32 in July. Injuries limited him to just 26 games last season while he dealt with the recovery from an operation that only he and Jack Eichel have undergone in NHL history. Johnson is under contract for two more seasons at a salary cap hit of $5 million annually. Unless there’s a late-career resurgence coming from Johnson, he’s probably riding out those final two seasons with the Blackhawks and then hitting the open market in 2024 or hanging up his skates for good.

He’ll make $8.5 million in base salary to do that, though, and there are worse ways to make a living.

Patrick Kane

Stats last season: 78 games, 92 points (26 G, 66 A), 18 PIM, 287 shots, 9.1 SH%, 21:49 ATOI

Ready for five months of trade rumors?!

There’s no need for detailed explanation here. Kane has remained one of the top offensive talents in the league even though he’s headed for his 34th birthday in November and the expectation here is that his game won’t decline much — if at all — despite his age. All of the other questions related to him involve those aforementioned trade rumors, and we’re going to deal with those as they arrive.

One of the best things Kane can do, from the perspective of the team’s long-term approach, is maximize the offensive capabilities of Domi and Athanasiou so that the Blackhawks get top-dollar in return when those two players are traded next March.

Taylor Raddysh

Stats last season: 21 games, 10 points (6 G, 4 A), 2 PIM, 43 shots, 14 SH%, 15:32 ATOI

Raddysh is probably the most intriguing name on this list. The general consensus on Raddysh when the Blackhawks acquired him last March is that he had plenty of offensive talent but was never going to get an opportunity for top-six minutes on the uber talented Tampa Bay Lightning. There is no such plethora of talent with the Blackhawks, though, which means that Raddysh will be afforded every opportunity to realize the potential he reportedly has.

Raddysh went from averaging 11:03 of ice time per game in 53 games with Tampa last season to 15:34 per game in 21 games with Chicago. His 10 points (6 G, 4 A) with the Blackhawks almost matched his 12 points (5 G, 7 A) with the Lightning, which is indicative of the increased scoring opportunities Raddysh was afforded with the Blackhawks.

Raddysh has two more seasons left on a three-year contract with a wildly affordable cap hit of $758,333. He turns 25 in February, so the clock is ticking a bit, but Raddysh could be entertained as a long-term piece with the Blackhawks if he cashes in on the top-six minutes he’ll have this season.

Jonathan Toews

Stats last season: 71 games, 37 points (12 G, 25 A), 19 PIM, 125 shots, 9.6 SH%, 17:28 ATOI

It feels like it’s nearly forgotten that Toews is just over a year removed from missing an entire NHL season with a medical condition that still has elements of mystery to it. Last season was certainly not his best, although that can be forgiven when considering the circumstances surrounding it:

Virtually all of the intrigue around Toews is associated with trade talks, specifically whether or not he’ll waive his no-movement clause and accept a trade away from the only organization he’s ever known. Additional questions remain in terms of what kind of return he’ll fetch should the trade materialize and which teams will be able to work the cap enough to fit in his massive $10.5 million cap hit. There’s also the question of what type of player Toews is going to be, because he’s 34 years old now.

And those questions will only be answered as the season progresses.

What’re the lines gonna look like?

A reminder of the lines from Tuesday’s practice:

It’s unsettling to look at the top line that the Blackhawks will take into this season and realize all three players could be traded away before the seasons ends.

Make that item No. 2,454,873,988 on the list of unsettling things about this upcoming Blackhawks season.