We’re almost a month removed from the opening of the NHL’s free agency period. Some big names still remain but outside of re-signing current RFA Dylan Strome, the Hawks appear to be done adding to their roster. There’s always the possibility a trade can be made but we have a pretty good idea of the players that will be competing for spots on the Blackhawks whenever the 2020-2021 season begins. Let’s take a look at some of the names, specifically some of the young players, that could compete and earn spots on the team this year.
First, the forwards.
Pius Suter: The reigning MVP of the NLA (Switzerland’s top professional league), proceeding current Blackhawk Dominik Kubalik who was named MVP the year prior. Suter is a smallish forward. Not the fastest skater but gets around the net and isn’t afraid to get into traffic to make plays and score goals. Has a strong shot, showing the ability to score from distance in the NLA. Suter has an out-clause in his contract, so expect him to be on the opening night roster.
Philipp Kurashev: Kurashev has been a bit of an under-the-radar prospect for Chicago since being drafted in 2018. Spent a couple of seasons thereafter in the QMJHL where he was good but never dominated statistically. His coming out party was certainly the 2019 World Junior Championship where he led Switzerland in goals and points (as well as a share of the tournament lead in goals) en route to being named a tournament all-star. At the end of his first AHL season this past year, Rockford Icehogs’ head coach Derek King raved out his play. He may not make the team out of camp but he’ll be on the short-list of players looking for an NHL call-up if other players struggle or injuries occur.
Evan Barratt: Barratt was a sparkplug throughout his time with Penn State. The kind of player you love to have on your team but hate to play against. He came on offensively the past two seasons, scoring 28 goals and 77 points in 66 games during his sophomore and junior seasons. Signed to an entry-level contract back in April, Barratt will likely start the season in the AHL as well but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he claws his way onto the team at some point.
Brandon Hagel: Fans may remember Hagel getting into his first NHL game for the Blackhawks in their final game before the pause. Named Rockford’s rookie of the year following a 19-goal, 31-point season. He’s another player that gets to the net and can make some plays. Hagel is also a strong skater and showed the ability to separate himself at times in the AHL. He’ll be competing for a depth spot in camp and again, will be one of the likely candidates for an NHL call-up if he doesn’t make the team out of camp.
Now we’ll take a look at some of the defensemen.
Ian Mitchell: Mitchell is coming off a strong Junior season at Denver prior to signing his entry-level contract with Chicago during the pause. Named to the NCAA (NCHC) first all-star team and the NCAA (west) first all-american team. He put up 10 goals and 32 points in 36 games for the Pioneers and helped Canada win a Spengler Cup, scoring his lone goal in the championship game. You should expect Mitchell to make the team out of camp and have an immediate impact. There will likely be growing pains but he’s a gamer and projects as a solid top-four defenseman in Chicago for a long time.
Wyatt Kalynuk: Kalynuk chose to become a free agent this off-season after declining to sign with the Flyers, who’d drafted him in the 7th round of the 2017 NHL draft. He’s an older prospect, the same age as Lucas Carlsson who has already spent 2 years in the AHL. A strong skater and puck-mover with decent size, he’ll be in the conversation for a spot on the team out of camp. Though unlikely he makes the team looking at the roster currently, with a good start to his season in the AHL, it may not be long before we see him getting an opportunity with the big club.
Nicolas Beaudin: Somewhat of a forgotten man, Chicago’s second first-round pick in 2018 after Adam Boqvist. He didn’t have the strongest rookie season with Rockford but looked composed and polished during his lone NHL game last year. Beaudin is a very intelligent player. He moves the puck effectively and efficiently at both ends of the ice. Undersized and not the fastest skater for his size, he’s likely destined to start in the AHL. For whatever reason, some players are just better suited for the more structured game in the NHL than AHL. I suspect that’s the case with Beaudin. If he gets a chance in the NHL this year, I expect him to take advantage of it.
This upcoming season will likely be a challenging one for the Blackhawks unless one of Delia, Subban or Lankinen surprises, really grabs the reigns and plays well as a starter in what would be each of their first real opportunities to shine in the NHL. However, even if this season ends up being a forgettable one from the fans standpoint, it will be a big season for the aforementioned players.
There is talent coming up through the system and chances are we’ll see quite a bit of that talent on the roster this year.
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