The Chicago Blackhawks did not get off to the greatest of starts this season. Before their first game ever began, Captain Jonathan Toews was lost to an undisclosed illness, top-rookie center Kirby Dach had suffered a severe wrist injury in the World Junior Championships, and longtime defensive stalwart Brent Seabrook had injured his back. And oh yeah — the Blackhawks had no idea who their starting goalie would be once opening day arrived. With no preseason games to figure out these critical issues– and no time to acclimate their new acquisitions — it was no surprise to see the Blackhawks thoroughly trounced their first three games, where they gave up five goals in each contest.
Luckily, the Blackhawks have shown improvement over time. As of this writing, they currently hold a .5oo record (4-4-4) and are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for the last playoff seed in the Central Division with 12 points. Technically, they are still very much in the hunt, unlike other teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators. Despite a horrific start to the year, they’ve been able to keep their heads above water, fueled by their red-hot power play (3rd best in the league) and because of these three players in particular:
It should come as no surprise that Patrick Kane is once again leading his team in every single category thus far: goals (6), assists (9), and points (15). He is literally the straw the stirs the drink for Chicago — if Kane is going, the Blackhawks are going. His offensive productivity, creativity, vision, hands, and elusiveness have always been of an elite level; and although his two-way game has never been his strongest suit, he has improved leaps and bounds from when he entered the league. Particularly with Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook out of the lineup, Kane is the most important Blackhawk next to defenseman and fellow alternate captain Duncan Keith.
Not only does Kane lead the team in every offensive statistic, but he also leads all forwards in ice-time. The fact that he can produce no matter who is paired on his line is as impressive as anything. At times, coach Jeremy Colliton has paired him with Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev, who are both rookies; in addition to the newly-acquired Mattias Janmark. Any other player would see a dip in production when constantly paired with new linemates season after season, yet Kane not only continues to thrive, he makes the other players on his line better. Illustrating this point all the more is the fact that Suter, Kurashev, and Janmark are all tied for second in most goals scored on the team (4).
At practically zero hour of the off-season, General Manager Stan Bowman finally re-signed Strome to a two-year deal totaling $6 million. The young center — who had an underwhelming season overall last year — looked to be on his way out of Chicago until Toews announced he would be out indefinitely with an undisclosed illness. Less than a week later and via forced hand, Stan had officially brought Strome back into the fold.
Strome is off to a solid start and has provided Colliton with a stabilizing presence in Toews’ absence, particularly in the top-six. He is currently tied for second in goals scored with four. His other numbers may seem pedestrian (3 assists, 7 points, 46.7% faceoff percentage), but his productivity on the power play is a big reason why it is the third-best in the league. Strome is tied for first in power play goals (3) with Dominik Kubalik, is second in power play ice time (44:17) behind Kane, and tied for second in power play points (5).
No one ever wants to see a player — let alone your franchise’s star captain — out of the lineup, but in a way, Toews’ absence may have been a blessing in disguise for Bowman. Although Strome’s defensive and faceoff abilities are somewhat lacking, he is still an offensive catalyst with good speed and size; let alone a very capable top-six option. In addition, his chemistry with Alex Debrincat has also paid dividends. If Strome had not been re-signed just before the beginning of the season, and with their center options already depleted, who knows where the Blackhawks would be right now.
Unlike Strome, the Blackhawks walked away from longtime starting goalie Corey Crawford this offseason, leaving a gaping question mark in net. Malcolm Subban, Colin Delia, and Kevin Lankinen were all very green goalies with limited NHL experience, having barely played an entire regular season combined. Subban had the most experience with over 60 games played, but struggled mightily in Vegas. Delia had been with the Blackhawks since 2017, but only played 18 games and Lankinen had yet to play in the NHL at all.
Ironically, it has been Lankinen that has taken the reins in goal. He has not only started the last five games, but also in 8 of the Hawks’ 12 games thus far. In that time, he has acquired all 4 of the Blackhawks’ wins this year; an impressive .928 save percentage (10th best in the league); and a 2.32 goals against average. In fact, with a 4-1-3 record, Lankinen has started in 7 of the 8 games in which the Blackhawks have accumulated points this season.
The fact that Lankinen is performing this well as a rookie is even more impressive considering the team he has up front. Defense is still an issue for the Blackhawks, who have many rookies and many new faces in the entire lineup. In addition to forwards Suter and Kurashev, Lankinen’s defensive core has consisted of two to three rookies at a time, including Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, and Lucas Carlsson; in addition to newly-acquired defenseman Nikita Zadorov. Out of the plethora of Hawks rookies this season, Lankinen has shined in arguably the toughest and most important position.