The Chicago Blackhawks have a roster problem. Normally having depth in your lineup proves to be a positive thing. Take a look at the last decade of play from the Boston Bruins. They made the playoffs eight out of the 10 seasons, won a Stanley Cup, and made the Stanley Cup Finals three times. They could not have done that if they didn’t have the four lines they did. Even this season the Boston Bruins third line could play as well as any second-line from across the league. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have forward depth, but too much to properly manage.
Current State of the Chicago Blackhawks Roster
The Chicago Blackhawks are not what they used to be. They are two seasons out of the playoffs. Before the league shut down they were on track to miss the postseason for a third consecutive year. The main factor to this is the lacklustre defence that the team has been cap-strapped from. However, there is a problem with the Blackhawks system that doesn’t get much traction. They have an abundance of depth forwards.
How They Got Here
This season it wasn’t much of an issue. During the offseason, the team only acquired some gap-filling offensive pieces in Ryan Carpenter, Zach Smith, and fan-favourite Andrew Shaw. They had also traded away their best young defenseman in Henri Jokiharju for a questionably capable Alex Nylander. None of those players could hold top-line minutes, hence their labelling in this article as ‘depth forwards.’ Carpenter and Smith were players who added grit to the lineup. Shaw could do the same with the ability to play on the second line.
2020-2021 Chicago Blackhawks Roster Outlook
The team and fans were able to watch what some of the Blackhawks bubble prospects could do following injuries to NHLers. Matthew Highmore found a stable spot on the roster in the bottom six, Kirby Dach showed that he was worth the third overall pick, and fans got a one-game glimpse at the potential of Brandon Hagel. If the offseason (whenever it happens) goes accordingly, fans can see those names more often in a Blackhawks uniform. But those three are not the only NHL ready prospects the organization has.
Evan Barrat played Division-1 hockey at Penn State this past season, putting up 34 points in 34 games. On a team that doesn’t have as many centers, he’d easily slot into the top-six. However, with the Blackhawks having their bottom lines filled down the middle with Dach and David Kampf, the likelihood of him playing is dependent on whether or not the team values a scoring centerman like Barrat over a defensive-minded player like Kampf.
In his first season in North America, Michal Teply put up an impressive 29 goals and 34 assists for a total of 63 points for the Winnipeg Ice. Andrew Shaw’s ability to play next season is largely dependent on his health, as well as the performance of younger forwards on the current roster in Alex Nylander and Matthew Highmore. Despite all of this Teply is a highly regarded prospect for the organization, and knowing the success of their previous European prospects, his potential is high.
This is a weird one to talk about. Dylan Sikura has been cooking in the development crock-pot for three seasons and is entering a contract year. His AHL totals are pretty good for his style of offence. He has up 31 goals and 37 assists for 68 points in his 91 AHL games. His NHL point totals might not be as high, only having 14 points in 47 NHL games, but this doesn’t take away from what he can add to the roster. The reason he’s NHL ready is how he plays off the puck. He’s a fast winger and has great ice vision. He was named a Hobey Baker finalist in his Senior Season at Northeastern for a reason, aside from his 54 points in 35 games.
How the Current Chicago Blackhawks Roster is Affected
It makes sense that the Blackhawks are set to be good in two seasons with so many players in the pipeline. That may be true, but under GM Stan Bowman’s leadership, the team needs to bounce back now rather than in a few seasons. Assuming he can sign Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik, and Dylan Strome to favourable deals and keep Crawford for cheap, the team looks the same as this season getting them nowhere.
The team has prospects that are ready that can equal and even surpass the point totals of their current depth forwards. Nylander needs stability to prove himself, but there are plenty of teams that could use his services to patch up their bottom six. Smith was a good addition for this season, but when the team is as strapped for a cap as they are he can be shipped off and replaced by a younger, faster option on the wing. Highmore is a fine player, but Sikura’s skill off of the puts his standing above Highmore. Plus, Sikura has proven to be able to play in the top line next to Toews in the past.
How the Team Can Solve the Issue
The Blackhawks have miraculously kept their dynasty core together. Outside of those guys, who are getting older, they need to stay young grows as each season passes. Toews and Kane don’t seem to be slowing down for a few more seasons. With Seabrook and Crawford both showing that age is a factor in their play, the need for younger talent in the lineup becomes a priority. That isn’t to say the team needs to clean house and start a full rebuilding process. They have the skill in the system to avoid that.
In a tough division like the Central, staying young, fast, and talented is key to winning the division. The Blackhawks have an abundance of prospects that can push them into that top spot next season.