This Chicago Blackhawks season, the team missed the playoffs for the third time in the past four years. The team finished just under .500, 24-25-7, sixth place in the modified Central Division. Compared to where the team, fans, and the media expected them to finish this was a successful season despite the lack of a postseason presence. There are plenty of things the organization can be proud of this year. Conversely, there’s still a long way to go for the team to return to their Cup-winning glory. Today let’s look at the takeaways, both positive and negative, from this past season.
Main Takeaways From This Chicago Blackhawks Season
The Kids Are Alright
At one point during this Chicago Blackhawks season, they had not one, not two, but three rookies that were in the Calder Trophy conversation. Pius Suter was on pace to score 40 points in his rookie season. For a player who just made the jump to professional hockey in North America, that’s a pretty good marker to start his career with. Teammate Philipp Kurashev, although not as potent, showed sparks of brilliance and proved he could skate with the best in the world, despite only scoring 16 points. Goaltender Kevin Lankinen may have plateaued from his mid-season Vezina moment, proved he could play a starter’s game in the NHL. He didn’t prove he was the best number 1 option for Chicago, not by any means. Did he prove he could split time in between the pipes with his partner next season, though? Absolutely.
Aside from those three, the youth movement in Chicago had an amazing showing through the shortened 56 game schedule. Defencemen Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, and Wyatt Kalynuk all showed they can play meaningful hockey at the earliest stages in their NHL development. Up the lineup, second-year forward Kirby Dach had a quietly productive 18 game stint, scoring two goals and eight assists for ten points. To add, he showed major steps in his defensive development and improved his two-way game. He’ll have a full summer to recover from his wrist injury and, hopefully, will be back better than he was this season. Alex DeBrincat got back to his goalscoring self, going off for 32 goals through 52 appearances. Brandon Hagel showed signs of developing a great two-way game with a nice scoring touch. All in all the younger players stepped up big time this season.
Kane Can Still Dominate
66 points in 56 games in this kind of season with this kind of roster is impressive for the 32-year-old. Patrick Kane has proved, once again, that he can still carry the Blackhawks to a competitive finish. Even in the latter stages of his career, he seems to keep the pace of play up with the younger, arguably better, players in the league. How he tops this outing remains to be seen, but if Jonathan Toews is able to make a triumphant return to the lineup, well – the Central Division better look out.
Long Road To Go
Yes, the defence-core took major steps in the right direction this season. As mentioned earlier, the young guys played extremely well individually. But as a whole, the blue line was still full of holes. It shouldn’t take the goalie saving 45 shots a night to keep the puck from going in the back of the net, but that was a common theme this season. In order for the defence to be successful next season, there needs to be some work done to fix the cohesive issues fans saw this past year. How that happens remains to be known.
Duncan Keith will be 38 when the puck drops for the season opener in October. For sports, especially hockey, that’s old. He can still play meaningful hockey, that isn’t really the question. It’s a feat of human strength that, at his age, the guy can play almost 25 minutes a knight and not come out injured. However, it isn’t the most beneficial thing that he’s seeing so much ice time. He is not a bad defenceman by any stretch of the imagination. He can still be a useful top-four defender for the Blackhawks, but his role might be best served with some limited minutes each game. He’s much slower than he should be o be getting 25 minutes a game. His experience will be a valued asset during the next Chicago Blackhawks season, no doubt, but for the team to succeed defensively it might be time to shift the blue line away from Keith.
As mentioned before, Kevin Lankinen played really well this season. He wasn’t supposed to play NHL minutes this season, not as significant as he did. He ended the season with 37 appearances. In each one he proved he a split net next season for Chicago. What lies behind him is where things get tricky for the Blackhawks. Malcolm Subban played decently well in relief. Through his 16 games, he picked up 6 wins and posted a .900 save percentage. Teammate Collin Delia was fine for the sample size provided. It’s hard to play well when the team in front of you doesn’t clear the zone all that well, but he played alright.
There is a new issue for Chicago to consider going into next season. Along with Lankinen, Subban, and Delia, the Blackhawks have come decent, young goalies to develop. Most notable of the group is Boston University goaltender Drew Commesso and recent European signee Arvid Söderblom. Both guys have NHL starter ceilings and are significantly younger than any of the goalies the team played this season. Commesso still has a ways to go before he sees pro hockey, but Söderblom has had a few games of professional experience and could make the jump to the NHL soon. Lankinen seems like a stable option for the future, at least right now. Where the team will be in terms of netminding in a year’s time will be an interesting journey with all the young competition in the system.
The team overachieved, and then some this season. Despite not making the playoffs there was plenty for fans to be excited about this Chicago Blackhawks season. With a long offseason ahead, including an expansion draft, Chicago will look to stay active and relevant as they build off of the first year of their rebuild. With Jonathan Toews expected to come back, as well as the arrival of a few new faces this team could be back for more come the fall. Only time will tell.
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