The Chicago Blackhawks will play their first home game of the preseason on Thursday night, and they will be rolling out a lineup full of their biggest stars.
Players like Patrick Kane, who sat out the team’s first game on Tuesday in Columbus, will be in the lineup when the Blackhawks welcome the Detroit Red Wings to the United Center.
New acquisitions Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp will also be on the ice, as will defensemen Connor Murphy and Jan Rutta.
Stars like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford are all expected to play as the Blackhawks play their first of three preseason games on home ice.
Captain Jonathan Toews was listed on the team’s roster for the game, but did not participate in the morning skate at the United Center.
With such a big group of stars set to see their first action of the preseason, we have three things to watch for as the game gets underway.
Nick Schmaltz Tries His Hand at Center
For the first time this preseason, Schmaltz will get to center the second line in game action, as he slots in between Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane for the game against the Red Wings.
Blackhawks fans checking out the game would be well-advised to watch for two different features of Schmaltz’s game. Will his speed open up space for Kane and DeBrincat, both of whom are dangerous when they find openings on the ice? And will he be able to win more face-offs this season, a year after winning just over 30 percent of his draws?
Those will be important questions to answer, and if he can ace those tests, the Blackhawks may have found their new second line center.
Patrick Sharp’s Fitness Level
All preseason long, players and coaches have been talking about Sharp’s fitness level in his first season back, and fans will get their first look at him Thursday as he skates with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Hartman.
That new-look third line could give the Blackhawks something that they were sorely lacking last season: a bottom six line that is capable of playing solid defense and generating scoring chances when they are on the ice.
Sharp is going to be a critical component of that approach, and if he is as fit as experts have said he is, then he should be able to provide a great dose of athleticism and experience to that line.
Connor Murphy’s Blackhawks Debut
After being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes, Murphy will skate alongside Duncan Keith on the Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing on Thursday night, and fans should get used to seeing him in that role.
The right-handed shot seems to be a great compliment to Keith’s skillset, and his mix of strong physicality and offensive ability is something that the Blackhawks have been searching for as they remake their blue line.
If Murphy is able to step into a top-tier defensive role, the Blackhawks’ defense is going to be an improved area this season. If he can’t, then things could quickly turn south for a group that is facing a lot of question marks this preseason.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., and the game can be seen on WGN.