The Chicago Blackhawks are in a rebuilding mode heading into the 2021 NHL season, but now things are going to be even more challenging as captain Jonathan Toews will be out for an indefinite period of time due to a medical issue.
Toews, one of the few top-six forwards left on the roster after the Brandon Saad trade and the injury to center Kirby Dach, will now be out for the foreseeable future, and as a result the Blackhawks will once again be left scrambling to figure out how to put together a lineup for the 56-game regular season.
To help Blackhawks fans figure out where the team stands in terms of its lineup, here is our first pass at what the lines could look like on opening night against Tampa Bay:
Alex DeBrincat-Dylan Strome-Andrew Shaw
Dominik Kubalik-Carl Soderberg/Pius Suter-Patrick Kane
Lucas Wallmark/Carl Soderberg-Mattias Janmark-Brandon Pirri
David Kampf-Matthew Highmore-Ryan Carpenter
With Toews out of the mix, one would have to assume that the Blackhawks are going to eventually get a contract worked out with Dylan Strome, who is still a restricted free agent. While the team has said that they anticipate getting a deal done, the fact that a contract still isn’t signed is an interesting spot for the Blackhawks to be in, especially considering their top two centers are now out of the mix.
With that in mind, it would make sense to put Strome with Alex DeBrincat, with whom he’s had plenty of success in the past. Patrick Kane could make sense on that top line’s right wing, but instead we’re going to go with Andrew Shaw, who is reportedly healthy and ready to get rolling in the new season, and his versatility as a player who can play hard at both ends of the ice could come in handy with two offensively-minded players like DeBrincat and Strome.
For the second line, we bumped up Carl Soderberg, and pairing him with Kane makes sense. The gifted winger has had a lot of success with big, two-way centers before, including Dave Bolland, Michal Handzus and Artem Anisimov, and it would make sense to try to recapture that magic with Soderberg.
The only question with Soderberg is whether his wrist injury that he suffered last year could make him more comfortable at the wing spot. If that's the case, we could see prospect Pius Suter make a play for the second line center role, and could see Soderberg either bump to the top line in Shaw's spot or move to a third line winger role.
Putting Dominik Kubalik on that line would clear out plenty of room for Kane to work, and would likely result in favorable matchups and prime scoring opportunities.
After the top two lines, things start to get muddled for the Blackhawks. There are a lot of players who could work in a lot of positions, but it stands to reason that the Blackhawks would want to have a solid center like Lucas Wallmark on the critical third line, and putting him with a veteran like Janmark would be a good start.
The fourth line is even more of a hodgepodge, and one would assume the Blackhawks will want a few veterans in the mix to help provide some stability there. David Kampf could realistically center that line, but it seems likely that one or both of John Quenneville and Brandon Pirri will be able to compete for a spot on that line.
Several other Blackhawks prospects could also get a look with the team thanks to the absences. Pius Suter could potentially slide into a left wing spot on the second or third line for the Blackhawks, especially if Shaw isn’t ready to play every night at the start of the season.
Younger players like Brandon Hagel could also get a look in the competition for bottom-six minutes, especially if they want to reserve a player like Quenneville or Pirri for a higher-line role in the event of further injuries.
Prospects like Andrei Altybarmakyan and Mackenzie Entwistle will almost certainly be on the radar as well, and since Czech forward Michal Teply is already in North America for the World Junior Championships, he could easily be a training camp invitee as well.
Evan Barratt, who signed an ELC with the Blackhawks during the offseason, is perhaps a slightly longer shot in terms of getting onto the roster, but the Blackhawks could look at him or at Philipp Kurashev if they’re hoping to get some punch into their top six.