Chicago Blackhawks 2021-22 Season Preview

Before the 2020-21 season, the Blackhawks announced that they were going to rebuild. Well, that rebuild did not last long. Chicago investing a ton of draft capital and a top prospect for controversial defenseman Seth Jones, then extended him for eight seasons. The most shocking news of the offseason wasn’t even that. The goaltending-challenged team added the guy who was the best goalie in the league this past season.

Offseason additions: G Marc-Andre Fleury, D Seth Jones, F Tyler Johnson, D Jake McCabe, D Caleb Jones, F Jujhar Khaira.

Offseason subtractions: F Pius Suter, D Adam Boqvist, D Duncan Keith, F Vinnie Hinostroza, F David Kampf, D Nikita Zadorov.

Forwards

For some unknown reason, Patrick Kane won an ESPY for being the best hockey player in the world. Kane was good, but nowhere near that level. He scored 15 goals, but had 51 ASSISTS in 56 games. With a well over a point-per-game pace, Kane showed that he is still an elite top line player. Not only was Alex DeBrincat the only Blackhawk to score at least 20 goals, he scored 32. His 56 points trailed just Kane as he rode a 20.6 shooting percentage. The Blackhawks will heavily lean on the health of Kirby Dach this season. Dach was drafted 3rd overall in 2019 but just 82 games under his belt in the NHL, with 33 points. Dach missed all but 18 games last year, where he scored twice with eight assists. 2021-22 will bring the return of Jonathan Toews. The future Hall-of-Famer missed all of last season with chronic immune response syndrome. When he last saw him, Toews was an elite defensive player with 18 goals and 60 points in 70 games. The story of the 2019-20 Blackhawks was Dominik Kubalik, who scored less last season but was still a productive player. Kubalik’s 2019-20 shooting percentage of 19.1% was obviously unsustainable. He scored 17 goals with 38 points last year. Playing with Toews this year will help boost his totals. Dylan Strome will move to the wing after a very disappointing season. He scored eight goals with nine assists in 40 games. He can’t blame his shooting percentage, as he only had 71 shots all year. His brother Ryan scored three less goals than he did points. 21-year-old Philipp Kurashev had a very similar season to Strome, but it was more acceptable since it was his first season. There is hope that the Swiss forward could become the next Kubalik. 2016 sixth round pick Brandon Hagel was a pleasant surprise as a rookie. In his 52 games played, Hagel scored nine goals with 24 points. That is good enough for him to have earned a bottom-six winger role. Veteran Tyler Johnson comes in along with a second round pick so the Lightning could get rid of his contract. The Blackhawks will take him as a solid bottom-six player with center and wings capabilities. Johnson scored 29 goals as recently as 2018-19. He netted just eight with 22 points last year. He scored four more with three assists as he won his second consecutive Stanley Cup ring. Chicago hopes that former Panthers top pick Henrik Borgstrom can establish himself as at least a fourth line center. He played in Finland last year, scoring 11 goals with 21 points in 30 games. Alex Nylander missed all of last year after knee surgery, following his first full NHL season. In that season, Nylander scored 10 goals with 16 assists in 62 games. The Blackhawks signed former Oiler Jujhar Khaira to a two-year deal. Khaira played tough, penalty killing minutes for Edmonton, and will now fight for a fourth line role in Chicago. The six-foot-four forward had a career high 151 hits in 40 games last year. A similar horse in the race is Ryan Carpenter, whose big distinction from Khaira is that he is right-handed. He also played in exactly 40 games last year, scoring four times. After scoring 33 points in 59 games in 2019-20, Adam Gaudette had a really rough season for the Canucks. That led to a midseason trade to the Blackhawks. After that, Gaudette had four points in seven games.

Defensemen

The Seth Jones debate got even heavier this offseason when he was rumored and then eventually traded. On one side, the eye test people see him as a big, mobile right-handed shot defenseman who is one of the league’s best. But the analytics community sees him as a guy who has not been able to handle his tough minutes. Jones is undoubtedly very talented, but he has been on a concerning downward track as of late. 2020-21 was his worst season, which is concerning given how much the Blackhawks just committed to him. Jake McCabe comes in on a four-year deal after actually looking good in Buffalo. He can be the perfect safety blanket for Jones. The problem is that McCabe is just coming off of major surgery and played in only 13 games last season. The Blackhawks just extended Connor Murphy as he entered the final year on his contract. The big defender had 15 points in 50 games, and for the sixth time in seven years, he had triple digits in hits and blocked shots. He had 102 and 123, respectively. Another blocked shot stalwart is the oft-injured Calvin de Haan, who could potentially be dealt by the start of the season. de Haan played in 44 games with 85 blocked shots and 99 hits last year. The Blackhawks traded potential future Hall-of-Famer and three time Cup winner Duncan Keith to the Oilers and got back Seth’s brother, Caleb Jones. The younger Jones may even be better than Keith now. He looked promising in 2019-20, but was often healthy scratched last season, and had four assists in 33 games. His defensive partner could be a number of different people. Being right-handed opposite the left-handed Jones could be huge for Ian Mitchell. The 2017 2nd rounder made his NHL debut last year, with seven points in 39 games. He nearly averaged a blocked shot per game, with 37. Wyatt Kalynuk was a nice surprise in his rookie year, scoring four goals with five assists in 21 games. The third option is Riley Stillman, who came from Florida with Henrik Borgstrom and Brett Connolly’s contract. He is probably the most defensively stable among the three and had 21 blocked shots with 37 hits in 13 games for Chicago down the road.

Goalies

With Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold, the biggest issue for the Blackhawks from last year has been resolved. Sure, the 36-year-old is primed for regression. But it can not be ignored that he just won the Vezina Trophy and the Blackhawks got him for nothing. He had a 1.98 GAA and a .928 save percentage for the Golden Knights last year. Last year’s starter, Kevin Lankinen, will move to behind Fleury. He started off hot but cooled down to end with a 3.01 GAA with a .909 save percentage. Both of last year’s backups, Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban, are both still in the organization, as they have went from being awful in net to having elite goaltending depth.

Projected Lines

Alex DeBrincat – Kirby Dach – Patrick Kane

Dylan Strome – Jonathan Loews – Dominik Kubalik

Brandon Hagel – Tyler Johnson – Philipp Kurashev

Alex Nylander – Henrik Borgstrom – Adam Gaudette

Extras: Jujhar Khaira, Ryan Carpenter

Jake McCabe – Seth Jones

Calvin de Haan – Connor Murphy

Caleb Jones – Ian Mitchell

Extras: Riley Stillman, Wyatt Kalynuk

Marc-Andre Fleury

Kevin Lankinen

Extras: Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia

Prediction

The Blackhawks made substantial changes this offseason to improve their roster. Both Jones brothers, Fleury, and Johnson can give the team some life. They are in a Central Division that will almost certainly have five playoff spots in it. That spot could very easily come down to them, the Stars, and the Predators. The Blackhawks have the goaltending now, but I am not sure that they will come out on top.

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: