After one of the strangest offseasons in NHL history, the Chicago Blackhawks will finally be back on the ice Wednesday when they take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in their season opener.
The Blackhawks were last on the ice in mid-August, when they were defeated in five games by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Quarterfinals in Edmonton.
Since then, the team has undergone some significant changes, with goaltender Corey Crawford now retired (after briefly signing with the New Jersey Devils) and Brandon Saad now a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
The Blackhawks will also be missing several key players when they get the regular season started on Wednesday. Center Kirby Dach will likely miss the regular season after breaking his wrist during an exhibition game with Team Canada in December, and captain Jonathan Toews is out indefinitely due to an unspecified medical issue.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook is also out of the lineup for unspecified reasons, and newly-signed forward Carl Soderberg is still in quarantine after finally sorting out visa issues that kept him out of training camp with the Blackhawks.
Even with those high-profile absences, the Blackhawks will have new players in several spots that fans will want to keep an eye on.
The Blackhawks also signed a pair of NHL free agents, including forward Mattias Janmark. Formerly of the Stars, Janmark had six goals and 15 assists in 62 games last season. He also appeared in all of Dallas’ playoff games, with a goal and seven assists to his credit for the defending Western Conference champions.
Janmark is expected to serve as the left wing on a line with Andrew Shaw and Lucas Wallmark, who also signed a free agent contract with the Blackhawks this offseason. Wallmark split time with the Hurricanes and Panthers last season, with 12 goals and 13 assists in 67 games.
The big addition of the offseason among the forward group is Pius Suter, who has already impressed coaches in camp and has taken on a second-line center role even though he hasn’t played an NHL game. The center signed with the Blackhawks out of the Swiss league, where he posted 30 goals and 23 assists in 50 games last season with Zurich SC.
The Blackhawks are also hoping to shuffle things up on their blue line, including with the acquisition of Nikita Zadorov in a trade with the Avalanche. Zadorov brings a physical edge to his game that the Blackhawks have largely lacked in recent seasons, and he can occasionally score too, with four goals and nine assists to his credit last season. He also scored three playoff goals for the Avalanche.
Blackhawks fans have been dreaming of the day that Ian Mitchell would finally join the team’s roster, and after a successful career at the University of Denver, the blue liner has finally arrived. He is expected to slot in with Calvin de Haan in the team’s opener, and scouts have long-lauded his abilities on both ends of the ice.
Finally, the Blackhawks will have an entirely new look in net this season, with several netminders competing for the starting role as the season moves along. Malcolm Subban, acquired last season in the Robin Lehner trade with Vegas, will get the first crack at the job Wednesday, and it will remarkably be his first start with the team, as he only appeared in one game for the Blackhawks in March.
Subban has appeared in 66 NHL games, with a 2.97 goals against average and a .899 save percentage in those contests.
Collin Delia will also get some time in the team’s goaltending rotation, and he’ll hope to nail down a permanent spot with the club this time around. He has appeared in 18 games with the Blackhawks in his career, but spent all of last season with the Rockford IceHogs. There, he posted a 16-13-1 record with a .912 save percentage and a 2.66 goals against average in 32 AHL games last season.
The puck will drop on the season for the new-look Blackhawks just after 7 p.m. Wednesday, and you can catch all the action as part of a hockey tripleheader on NBCSN.