Is the Future Bright for the Chicago Blackhawks?

It’s been five years since the Chicago Blackhawks not only won a Stanley Cup, but a playoff series in general. Since then, they have either failed to advance past the first round, or have failed to qualify for postseason play all together.

Find out which side the public is betting with BetQL’s NHL consensus picks for every game and every bet type including some big offseason moves.

As their core of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford enter their twilight years, where exactly is this team headed?

Here are the players that will determine the Blackhawks’ trajectory, for better or worse:

Alex Debrincat

In his 2017-2018 rookie year, Debrincat amassed 28 goals and 52 points, bursting onto the NHL scene as a ready-made top-six scoring threat. After an even-better second year of 41 goals and 76 points, General Manager Stan Bowman promptly signed the former second-round pick to a 3 year, 19.2 million dollar contract. The Hawks had seemingly found a bonafide goal scorer, who would not only help in the present but also play a pivotal role in the Blackhawks’ new “core” going forward.

Unfortunately, with 18 goals and 45 points, Debrincat’s productivity declined drastically this year. Once opposing teams began keying in on him physically, Debrincat was unable to find his game. His small stature was always a concern even before he broke into the league. Now that he’s a few years in, Debrincat no longer has the luxury of being the “new kid” who may have been overlooked by opposing teams in the past.

Although it may be too early to give up on Debrincat, the book may be out on how to neutralize him. Debrincat obviously has a great scoring touch, but due to his size, he will need to develop better on-ice awareness and elusiveness in order for continued success. How long it will take for him to develop these skills is anyone’s guess, as he is still a very young player at the beginning of his career. If Debrincat can develop his game, he could be the piece that – if not entirely, admirably – replaces Patrick Kane someday.

Kirby Dach

Selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Dach’s combination of size and skill made him the perfect option. Dach would finally be that big-bodied, top-six center that the Hawks had always lacked.

In 64 games last year, Dach recorded 8 goals and 23 points. He alternated between the second and third lines throughout the season. Although he didn’t exactly light up the stat-sheet, Dach had a respectable season overall for a rookie. He gained confidence as the season went along; and his hockey IQ and work ethic were very strong. Unlike most rookies, Dach’s willingness to back-check and his d-zone awareness stood out most. His skill was also evident, even though his finish was less so.

For a player that was projected to be less “NHL-ready” than defenseman Bowen Byram (who was the number 4th pick behind Dach and was seriously considered by the Blackhawks), Dach’s first year was a success overall. In addition to his regular season tallies, Dach registered 6 points (1G, 5A) in 9 post-season games. He still has a moderate way to go in his development, but he displayed many positive attributes that most rookies lack their first year; and his ceiling is arguably the highest out of any other current Blackhawk prospect.

Adam Boqvist

Like Dach, expectations are sky-high for Boqvist, who was selected 8th overall in 2018. Those expectations have only magnified with the departure of defenseman Henri Jokiharju – a top prospect who was traded last year for Alex Nylander, much to the chagrin of many Blackhawk fans. Evidently, Bowman felt that Boqvist made Jokiharju expendable; and that the need for a serviceable (at best) top-six forward in Nylander was more of a priority.

Unfortunately – and perhaps, understandably – Boqvist had a rough first year. Although paired with Duncan Keith most of the season, Boqvist struggled with the sheer pace of the game at the NHL level – with Keith having to cover for Boqvist more often than not. Missing his assignments, being out of position, and puck-watching are typical of any NHL rookie; and unfortunately, Boqvist was no different. In addition to a tough regular season, Boqvist struggled in the post-season as well, as he was physically overpowered by the opposition (Vegas, Edmonton). He also committed many critical penalties that resulted in goals against, particularly in the Vegas series.

It’s been said that it takes defenseman longer to develop in the NHL. Hopefully, this is the case with Boqvist and this year was simply a learning curve.

Dominik Kubalik

If Dominik Kubalik’s first year is any indication, his acquisition by Stan Bowman will go down as one of the biggest steals in Blackhawks history – reminiscent of Dale Tallon’s acquisition of Patrick Sharp from Philadelphia in 2005. A former seventh-round pick in the 2013 Draft, Kubalik had yet to ever play an NHL game until he was traded to Chicago from Los Angeles for a fifth-round pick. Since then, Kubalik would score 30 goals and 46 points his rookie year, earning a Calder Trophy finalist nomination.

Unlike Nylander, Bowman struck gold with Kubalik, who cemented his role not only as a top-six forward but as Jonathan Toews’ line-mate. Kubalik’s speed and scoring touch were exactly what the Hawks’ top line lacked in recent years. As a restricted free agent this off-season, it will be Bowman’s first priority to re-sign the 25-year-old Calder finalist.

Dylan Strome

When Strome was acquired from Arizona for Nick Schmaltz two seasons ago, many felt like he would be in the Hawks’ future plans. Initially, the change of scenery worked wonders for Strome – with many even pegging him as the future second-line center behind Toews. Reunited with his ex-OHL teammate in Alex Debrincat, the pair quickly regained the chemistry they had formed while playing for the Erie Otters.

In his first year with Chicago, Strome scored 17 goals, 34 assists, and 51 points in 58 games played. In that same amount of games his second year, however, Strome’s production dropped 13 points (12G, 26A, 38 points). In addition, the chemistry he had displayed with Debrincat the year prior was absent this past season. Eventually, Strome was demoted to the third line, with Dach replacing him in the top-six.

After a hot start in Chicago, Strome seems to have reverted back to the player he was in Arizona. His lackluster play in the regular season spilled into the post-season, where he registered just 3 points (2G, 1A) and never really solidified a spot in the lineup. He was demoted to third-line center, but that isn’t really a role that Strome is suited for, as his defensive coverage is average at best. Strome is also sub-par at face-offs and has limited experience in a shut-down role. Like ex-Blackhawk center Artem Anisimov, Strome may not have a defined role on this team anymore, which may make him just as expendable.

Colin Delia/Malcolm Subban

Even if Corey Crawford does accept the one-year $3.5 million contract Bowman supposedly offered him recently, the Blackhawks will still need another starting goalie for the very-near future.

Colin Delia showed promise in the 16 games he played in the 2018-2019 season, which led Bowman to quickly sign him to a 3-year, $3 million extension. Naturally, it was believed that Delia would at least be groomed by Crawford as a backup, but Delia did not play a single game since signing his extension. Instead, Bowman elected to sign Robin Lehner in free agency, only to trade him to Vegas at the deadline for goalie prospect Malcolm Subban (in addition to defenseman Slava Demin and a second-round pick).

Other than free agency, the organization really has no viable option to fill Crawford’s shoes. If Crawford does return next season, Subban and Delia may battle to be his backup – but neither are at all close to starting. Delia posted a respectable .912 save percentage in 32 games with Rockford this past season, but did not play a single NHL game this year. Subban has also yet to see any action since arriving in Chicago, and his save percentage dropped dramatically over his last three years with Vegas (.910, .9.02 and .890).

Conclusion:

Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers with regard to the Blackhawks’ future. Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik had very encouraging seasons, whereas Alex Debrincat, Dylan Strome and Adam Boqvist left much more to be desired. Out of all these players, Strome is most in danger of being jettisoned, since his trade-value may be high enough to garner a decent draft pick and his role is undefined since being replaced by Dach on the second line.

If Crawford declines to return, Bowman will have to acquire a serviceable starting goalie, either via free agency or trade. Alex Nylander wasn’t the answer for top-six scoring support; and with one year remaining on his contract, next year will be make-or-break for him. Players like Boqvist and Dach will need at least one to two years to fully mature – especially Boqvist. If either one fails to do so, that will set the Hawks back for years in terms of forming a new “core.” Even if the Hawks are a playoff team in the near future – which isn’t necessarily a given – it will be years until they are Cup contender again.

One thought on “Is the Future Bright for the Chicago Blackhawks?

  • October 4, 2020 at 7:54 PM
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    Solid analysis. As much as I would like to see Kane Toews and Keith finish as Hawks, it would be nice to see them on a contender.

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