Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2015-16, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2015-16 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue the series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Puck Drop Preview: 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks
A dominant performance from their core group of players helped the Chicago Blackhawks to their third Stanley Cup in six years, making them the modern day version of a dynasty. In 23 playoff games, Duncan Keith tallied 21 points, averaged over 30 minutes a game and ultimately walked away the Conn Smythe Trophy. Patrick Kane lead the Blackhawks in scoring with 23 points in the playoffs while team captain Jonathan Toews led the way in the regular season with 66 points. The hockey world also saw rookie forward Teuvo Teravainen earn a spot on the main roster.
Heading into the 2014-15 campaign, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman locked down his franchise players Toews and Kane each to an eight-year contract worth $10.5 million per year. The Blackhawks also traded up-and-coming defenseman Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders. The deal allowed Bowman to free up some salary as well as bring prospect defenseman Ville Pokka back in return. Another notable addition to the Blackhawks in preparation for 2014-15 was the signing of center Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million contract.
Not long into the season, the Blackhawks found themselves in a tough Central Division, where they competed against powerhouses like the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues. In late February, the Blackhawks made two moves, purchasing a pair of rentals: Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette from the Philadelphia Flyers and the Arizona Coyotes, respectively. In total, these two deals cost the Blackhawks their first and second-round draft picks in 2015, a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2016 and prospect defenseman Klas Dahlbeck.
At the end of the regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks finished with the third best record in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference.
In a battle against the cap, the Blackhawks had to make some big moves this offseason. They had to move forwards Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp and goalie Antti Raanta. In return, Chicago welcomed defenseman Trevor Daley along with forwards Ryan Garbutt and Marko Dano.
In free agency, the Blackhawks parted ways with defenseman Johnny Oduya and forwards Brad Richards and Vermette. The 40-year-old Timonen retired in June.
The Blackhawks had a relatively uneventful presence at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Without a pick in the first round, their first selection came at 54th overall when they drafted winger Graham Knott out of the OHL. In the third round, the Hawks chose Dennis Gilbert, a defenseman out of the USHL.
Opening Day Lineup
Artemi Panarin – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane**
Teuvo Teravainen – Artem Anisimov – Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg – Andrew Shaw – Ryan Garbutt
Bryan Bickell – Marcus Kruger – Victor Tikhonov
Andrew Desjardin, Jeremy Morin
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Trevor Daley – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Trevor van Riemsdyk – David Runblad
It has been a busy summer for Bowman so far and we will likely see at least one more deal made by the Blackhawks before the season kicks off. Bickell seems to be at the forefront of trade discussions. The 29-year-old could be used to shred salary and bring in another top-six blue-liner, potentially bumping van Riemsdyk or Runblad out of the starting line-up.
**Editor’s Note: This is based on the premise that Patrick Kane will not be suspended. However, that situation is very fluid and not easy to know today, September 3, 2015. This is subject to change.***
Player to Watch
Right now, Keith is one of the most dangerous players in the NHL. When he logs 30-plus minutes a game, its extremely hard for opposing forwards to catch a break. Keith, 32, played a huge part in all three of his team’s Stanley Cup victories. In their most recent playoff run, Keith seemingly controlled the play in every game. This season, the Blackhawks will need him more than ever in order to remain a contending team in the Western Conference.
Players on the Rise
Panarin is an undrafted, up-and-coming prospect in the NHL. According to ESPN Chicago, the 23-year-old “got looks from more than half the league and received strong interest from six teams.” The Blackhawks were able to sign him to a two-year, entry-level contract in April. The Russian native has spent seven years playing in the KHL, where he scored 183 points in 263 games. Last year alone, he put up 26 goals and 62 points in 54 games. Panarin is an incredibly skilled winger and will most likely get the chance to play on the first line. Also, his puck skills are off the charts.
Forward Teravainen proved to be a nice surprise for Chicago fans. In 2014-15 Teravainen began the season down the middle but soon transitioned to the wing where he looked more comfortable. Although he only managed nine points in 34 games during the regular season, the 20-year-old found his scoring touch in the playoffs producing 10 points in only 18 contests. With Saad and Sharp now removed from the roster, Teravainen should have no qualms fitting into the Blackhawks top six.
Player on the Decline
By all accounts, Hossa continues to be one of the best two-way forwards in the league. However, the 36-year-old’s offensive production is slowly beginning to decline. To start the season, Hossa struggled offensively, only managing to score three goals on 73 shots in the first two months. For the second time in his career, he netted fewer than 25 goals in 60-plus games. Hossa’s 8.9 shooting percentage was also at a career low. Despite some of the numbers though, Hossa will still play an integral role for the Blackhawks.
The reigning Stanley Cup champs still have a strong line-up, as their core group of players are still intact. This season, the Blackhawks should have a similar finish as the last, coming third in the Central Division. If Toews and Kane are anything like their usual selves, Chicago should have no problem offensively. Significant contributions from two-way players like Hossa and Keith will also give the team an edge.
Heading into 2015-16, the biggest question mark that surrounds the Blackhawks is their depth on left wing. With Saad and Sharp gone, that will leave Panarin and Teravainen to fill the left side on the first and second lines. Marko Dano could be another wildcard for the Blackhawks. Fans could see him break into a top six role as early as this season.