It’s hard to believe, but the Chicago Blackhawks have already played 10 games of their regular season thus far, and with their record sitting at 6-4-0, there is plenty to break down about the team and their chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
To help do that, we’ve come up with a list of players that have been standouts for the Hawks so far this season, and players who have fallen short of expectations in the early going.
The Blackhawks have some serious question marks on their blue line with Duncan Keith out of the lineup, but one of the few bright spots has been Hjalmarsson.
Despite playing heavy minutes during the postseason, the defenseman looks no worse for wear, and he has been arguably the team’s most consistent contributor as he routinely breaks up plays and gets the transition offense going with stretch passes.
The 23-year old wunderkind from Russia only got to play in one preseason game, but he hasn’t looked fazed at all by the North American game as he has already racked up two goals and seven assists in 10 games for the Blackhawks thus far.
The chemistry that Panarin has shown with Patrick Kane (who is also off to a great start this season) and Artem Anisimov has been one of the lone bright spots for the Blackhawks offensively, and even with guys like Noah Hanifin and Connor McDavid off to roaring starts to their NHL careers, Panarin certainly is an early candidate for the Calder Trophy this season.
Trevor van Riemsdyk
The Blackhawks’ system has been robbed of its blue line depth via trade and free agency in the past, but the team certainly has to be happy with the way that van Riemsdyk’s game has been progressing through the early portion of this season.
While van Riemsdyk’s defense has been improving steadily as he’s gotten back into the rhythm of playing every game, his offensive punch is something worth keeping an eye on. Ever since Keith left the lineup with a meniscus injury, van Riemsdyk has been much more aggressive in terms of carrying the puck through the neutral zone and across the blue line, causing opposing defenses to scramble and giving his teammates open scoring opportunities.
That is certainly good news for an offense that needs some, and van Riemsdyk is definitely turning heads in the early going.
Whether it’s ongoing issues with vertigo or simply a matter of not playing with the right teammates, Bickell has not looked like a player worth having on the ice in the early part of this season. Despite his $4 million price tag, the winger has zero points through seven games played, and although he is averaging nearly three hits per game when he’s in the lineup, his physical presence hasn’t really been that noticeable either.
One could argue that Bickell is suffering from a confidence crisis since he was placed on waivers and shopped rather aggressively in the offseason, but at the rate he’s going, he’s going to be occupying an expensive seat as a healthy scratch if he doesn’t turn his game around.
Daley has shown signs of life in recent games, but he’s still making too many mistakes and allowing too many quality opportunities through his first 10 games as a Blackhawk. Thursday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets was no exception, as the defenseman had a golden scoring chance as he pinched in from the blue line, only to try to pass the puck back out instead of shooting it on goal.
That kind of indecisiveness is deadly for any player on the ice, but especially for a defensemen. Scoring chances, especially in close games, are hard-earned, and Daley tossing it away is indicative of how he’s feeling right now. He has to play with more confidence on both ends of the ice if the Blackhawks are going to find success on their blue line.
At this point, it’s hard to argue that Rundblad should be in the lineup over Michal Rozsival (when he comes off of LTIR, of course) or Ville Pokka. The defenseman has been a black hole for the Blackhawks this season, making countless mistakes and committing mental errors that are simply unacceptable for a player that just signed a two-year contract with the team.
Thursday night provided numerous examples of Rundblad’s poor play, including his execution on what was a critical insurance goal for the Jets. Down one, Rundblad attempted to pinch in at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone. That is a standard play for a defenseman, but Rundblad feebly attempted to wave his stick at the puck instead of putting his body against the glass, and as a result Nik Ehlers caused a breakout for the Jets and Mark Schiefele scored to put the game away.
While players like van Riemsdyk and Viktor Svedberg are making strides forward, Rundblad has seemed to regress this season. Whatever the reason for his struggles, he’s essentially a liability at this point whenever he’s playing, and the Hawks have to hope that someone, whether it’s Pokka or Rozsival or Eric Gustafsson can play the sixth defenseman role on this team.