The 2019 Chicago Blackhawks Pre-season started off with training camp opening up on Friday, September 13th. Based on the last four disappointing seasons one would think the team would choose any other day than Friday the 13th to open their camp. Luckily, training camp opened without incident and the pre-season was underway with high expectations.
2019 Chicago Blackhawks Pre-Season
Coming off another season without a playoff appearance appears to have motivated the team’s beleaguered general manager Stan Bowman. He has been a very busy man during the off-season and has completely revamped his roster through trades and free agency. We are going to breakdown the pre-season highlights and a few players who are pushing for a spot on the roster.
The 2019 Blackhawks pre-season training camp has been closely watched by many who are hopeful that the team is finally heading in the right direction. Their training camp began with a roster of 55 players, which included 32 forwards, 17 defencemen, and six goaltenders.
The forward position is where the competition is the hottest this year. After Brendan Perlini finally signed his qualifying offer, that gave the team 11 forwards signed for the 2019-20 season. That leaves two forward spots available with $2.462 million in cap space per Capfriendly.com. That should allow two of the young forwards on entry-level contracts to slide right in under the salary cap.
There have been two youngsters who have stood out so far in the 2019 Blackhawks pre-season – Dominik Kubalik and Alexander Nylander. After four pre-season games, Kubalik has two goals with three points, and Nylander has one goal with three points. Kubalik is averaging 14.33 minutes of ice time, and Nylander a little over 17 minutes. Both players have looked impressive with the puck when playing so far. On the bright side, neither one has given the puck away in the three games they have played. They are also getting time on the Blackhawks power-play unit to show off their offensive skills.
Nylander’s play also has high expectations from the Blackhawks faithful after being traded for Henri Jokiharju. The trade of the former Blackhawk’s top defence prospect caused quite the uproar in Chicago. The reaction around town was as if Bobby Orr in his prime was traded for a bag of pucks. Jokiharju has shown some promise but his lack of size made him a liability on defence against larger forwards. Only time will tell if he can make it in the NHL. Meanwhile, Nylander is looking good in a Blackhawks sweater.
One name that is missing from the pre-season stat line is Kirby Dach who was injured playing in the Blackhawks Prospects Tourney. Dach was crunched into the end boards playing against the Minnesota Wild prospects on September 10th. He was placed under the NHL concussion protocol and luckily returned to the ice last Friday.
Dach was expected to push for a roster spot and still may with a great showing in the last half of camp. There is a lot riding on the number three overall draft pick making the team at some point this season. Bypassing the highest rated defence prospect Bowen Byram has many wondering if Bowman made the right choice. There is still time for the young centre to show he belongs in the NHL. Many fingers are crossed hoping that time is sooner rather than later.
There was not much good to say about the Blackhawks defence corps during the last few seasons. This off-season Bowman made it his priority to revamp the defence by trading for Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan. He currently has eight defencemen signed to one-way contracts making if a long shot for a rookie to break into the lineup. There are however two defence prospects getting noticed during the 2019 Blackhawks pre-season training camp. They are top defence prospect Adam Boqvist and also Dennis Gilbert.
Boqvist is facing the same long odds to break into the lineup as Jokiharju. At 5’11” 179 pounds, he is not yet physically ready to face the tough Western Conference. His offensive ability is top-notch, but he too has had issues defending. He has a goal and an assist in the two pre-season games he has played. Unfortunately, he also has four turnovers in the two games. He needs to learn to make the smart plays in his own zone and limit the turnovers if he hopes to make the team.
Dennis Gilbert has been a pleasant surprise during this training camp. His two pre-season games have shown he is willing to use his 6’2″ 216 pounds size. He has 7 hits in the two games as well as a scrap against Detroit Red Wings forward prospect Givani Smith. One thing lacking on the Blackhawks defence has been physicality and grit. Gilbert needs to continue to bring that type of play if he hopes to crack the defence corps.
Calvin de Haan has missed training camp so far due to recovering from shoulder surgery last May. For more on de Haan’s injury check this out from nbcsports.com
“The Blackhawks announced on Day 1 of training camp that de Haan will be out of the lineup for two to three weeks. The timeline hasn’t changed, but de Haan’s goal is and always has been to be ready for Opening Night in Prague on Oct. 4.”
“I hope so,” de Haan said. “That’s my game plan, anyways. I’m going to do everything in my power to be ready and hopefully make it a tough decision on the doctors and the staff to not let me play.”
He returned to practice on September 17th and is on target to open the season in October. If not, expect Boqvist or Gilbert to be kept with the club until de Haan is ready.
Goaltending was addressed by Bowman when he signed Robin Lehner to a free-agent contract. Signing the 2018-19 NHL Vezina Finalist is looking more and more like a brilliant move. He and Corey Crawford have both looked extremely sharp this pre-season. They have one complete game victory each and appear poised to be a top goaltending tandem in the league.
Backing them up were Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen. Both have also looked sharp in their time in net in training camp. These two young goalies are potential starters for the Blackhawks in the future depending on what the team does with upcoming unrestricted free agents Crawford and Lehner going forward.
While Lankinen was assigned to Rockford this past weekend, only Delia remains with the team behind Crawford and Lehner. Delia is also the only goalie signed past the 2019-20 season. Expect Bowman to address the goaltending future before the season ends.
2019 Blackhawks Pre-season Wrap Up
The Blackhawks have played well in pre-season games going 2-1-1 so far. Their team defence is looking better and is showing improvement under coach Jeremy Colliton‘s man-on-man system. Last season’s struggles to cover the slot appear to have been corrected as the forwards have been better covering in the pre-season. This is something the goalies will certainly appreciate in the season ahead.
They have two games left against the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins. The last true test for the prospects will be against the Capitals on Wednesday night. The game against the Bruins next Saturday will feature a squad dominated by Rockford Ice Hogs since the team leaves for the Czech Republic on Thursday.
The Blackhawks then open the season in Prague on October 4th against the Philadelphia Flyers as part of the 2019 NHL Global Series. Playing in Europe does allow them to carry 25 players instead of the normal 23. This will give the prospects on the bubble a while longer to prove they belong. This includes top draft pick Kirby Dach who will be pushing hard for a roster spot.
The next 11 days of the pre-season will be interesting, to say the least. The Blackhawks trimmed their roster by 12 prospects this past weekend and will be making more cuts this week as they prepare to start the upcoming season. Stay tuned to Last Word On Hockey as we cover the Blackhawks rebuilt roster trying to contend for a playoff spot again.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – APRIL 03: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates his shootout goal against the St. Louis Blues with teammates at the United Center on April 03, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)