The Chicago Blackhawks have a lot of questions to answer as they begin their preseason this weekend, and they’ll be looking to reverse their fortunes after a down season.
The Blackhawks, who are coming off their first postseason-less season in a decade, brought in some new players and are hoping to have youngsters step up in a big way in a tough Central Division.
Here are five storylines that Blackhawks fans should watch for as training camp and the preseason move along.
Corey Crawford’s Injury Recovery
Crawford’s recovery from a concussion is obviously the biggest story of camp, and will continue to be the defining factor in whether or not the team is going to be able to get back into the postseason.
After all, Crawford has shown a remarkable propensity to carry the team at times, and with some serious question marks on the defensive side of the ice (more on this in a moment), the Blackhawks will need a healthy Crawford if they are going to have any shot at getting back into the postseason.
Right-Handed Defensemen a Concern
The Blackhawks are already dealing with injuries on the right side of their blue line, as Connor Murphy and Brent Seabrook are both out of commission.
Seabrook will be back much sooner, but with his subpar play in recent seasons, the Blackhawks are surely hoping that a young defenseman can step into the void and can take over a top-four role this season.
To that end, Henri Jokiharju will be a player to watch in camp. He has been skating with Duncan Keith in early practices, and although it’s not a guarantee that he will even make the team, much less be Keith’s linemate on a consistent basis, it does show the level of trust that the organization has in him at a very early age.
Where Will Ejdsell, Sikura Fit In?
Even though the Blackhawks’ primary concern has to be their defense, their offense is also an area where they need younger players to step up, and Victor Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura are two guys to keep an eye on.
The big question, however, is where they will fit. Currently they are together with Artem Anisimov on the third line, but with Chris Kunitz serving as the top line winger at the moment, there could be a real opportunity for one of the forwards to make the jump in short order.
Is There Another DeBrincat Here?
Last season, Alex DeBrincat went from a training camp storyline to being the team’s top scorer, but is there another player that can potentially make that kind of leap this season.
In short, the answer is no, but there are players who could make the leap and make an impact as soon as they arrive. Jokiharju is definitely a player to watch on defense, while Sikura and Ejdsell will be competing for top six jobs on offense.
Other players that could potentially make the opening night roster include forward David Kampf, who could secure a center role on a team that needs to establish itself at the position, and John Hayden, who is still trying to find a consistent role on the team after several cups of tea at the highest level.
Can Kane and Saad Find Good Chemistry?
A lot has been made in the offseason of the offensive skill of Jonathan Toews, but Brandon Saad was equally lackluster in terms of production last season, and is going to be trying to get back into the form he was in when he was traded by the Blackhawks in 2015.
To that end, head coach Joel Quenneville decided to pair Saad up with Patrick Kane, and the duo could find some serious success alongside Nick Schmaltz. Kane is going to open up plenty of ice for Saad, and Schmaltz has proven that he can move the puck well through the middle, meaning that Saad can focus on getting shots to the net and on setting up shop near the blue paint to patrol for rebounds.
Both of those things are Saad’s bread and butter, and being able to get back to what he does best could be a big boost to his game in the coming season.