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Open Sesame

October 13, 2021, 4:06 AM ET [431 Comments]
Theo Fox
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

The season opener is finally here! Lots to cover in this blog as we take a final look at the Blackhawks before they kick off their 2021-22 season tonight versus the Avalanche who will be without their franchise player and NHL superstar. Coming up:

* News on Dylan Strome, Matej Chalupa, recent roster transactions, and team captains.
* Starting lineup projections with the help of Blackhawks writer Tyler Cameron.
* Results for the readers' poll on season predictions.


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Season Opener

The Blackhawks will battle against the Avalanche in Denver to begin the regular season with the Central Division resets to pre-pandemic membership. The Avs will be without their franchise player and one of the best in the league in center Nathan MacKinnon.

While it could be a relief that the Avs have less firepower up front, it may not be the best gauge on how well the Hawks played if they win. The proverbial asterisk would be added to the game result because the other team's top player was out of commission.

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Dylan Strome

Pierre LeBrun of TSN reported that there's a strong likelihood Dylan Strome gets traded within two weeks. This isn't a surprise and only confirms what many fans either want or expect to happen as Strome just doesn't seem to fit or have a place on the Hawks.

What would be a favorable return? Ideally a high-end draft pick and/or prospect with NHL potential but that may be wishful thinking. At the very least, the Hawks should avoid taking on a roster player who isn't waiver exempt as said player may not have a spot.

Until he's traded, Strome is perceivedly on the outside looking in as far as the Hawks roster. Assuming he's able to suit up for a game or two, he likely slots in with Kirby Dach and Brandon Hagel on the 3rd line in place of Henrik Borgstrom (more below).

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Matej Chalupa

Winger prospect Matej Chalupa was placed on unconditional waivers yesterday for the purpose of terminating his ELC which had one year remaining. He wasn't able to get comfortable in North America with an admitted language barrier being one reason.

With the IceHogs last season, Chalupa barely moved the needle of noticeable impact on the ice. Even though he played stronger towards the end, those instances of brilliance were flashes in the pan as they weren't enough for him to climb the depth chart.

An updated roster projection for the Hogs is forthcoming in an upcoming blog before the AHL season commences this Friday. The Hogs travel to Grand Rapids to square off the Griffins (Red Wings AHL affiliate). The home opener isn't until November 6 versus the Griffins.

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Transactions

The transaction of sending MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev to the AHL was indeed a paper one as they return to the NHL and are expected to grace the starting lineup this evening. Entwistle is still a rookie while Kurashev enters his sophomore year.

In terms of injury statuses, Wyatt Kalynuk shifted from season opening IR to LTIR. The retired Andrew Shaw moved from IR to LTIR, too. Caleb Jones and Alec Regula remain on LTIR and IR, respectively. Regula should be returning to Rockford once healthy.

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Captains


No shockers with the selection of captains for the 2021-22 campaign. Jonathan Toews wears the captain's C. Patrick Kane wears one of the alternate captain A's for all games. Alex DeBrincat wears the other A at home while Connor Murphy will wear it on the road.

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Starting Lineup

Thank you to Blackhawks writer and previous HockeyBuzz blogger Tyler Cameron for sharing his insights on the Blackhawks starting lineup to christen the new season. Below are his predictions with commentary then my predictions and commentary follow.

Tyler's Predictions

DeBrincat - T Johnson - Kane
Kubalik - Toews - Kurashev
Borgstrom - Dach - Hagel
Khaira - Entwistle - Carpenter

de Haan - S Jones
McCabe - Murphy
Stillman - Gustafsson

Fleury

Extras: Strome, Gaudette, Mitchell, Lankinen

There were some surprises this training camp and we all knew there was going to be a lot of competition. As I look at the projected roster above, some scenarios played out as I thought they would. Colliton's system is built upon quick transition and a relentless style of play; in knowing that coming into camp, I struggled to find spots for guys like Dylan Strome and Alex Nylander when I was making early projections. Both players are skilled, but rather one dimensional and don't seem to fit what the Hawks are going for. Strome could still see some time this year, but it appears for now, he's on the outside looking in.

In terms of who's made the team and how the early-look lines shook out, my overall thoughts are that I like the depth a lot.

I'm not sure Johnson stays with Kane and DeBrincat all year, but I'm curious to see how they start the year.

While I have Toews' line as the "2nd line", they may end up playing more like 3rd line minutes at even strength if the Borgstrom-Dach-Hagel line starts to become a force. I know they want to play Kirby Dach a lot and the more ice time, the better for fan favourite Brandon Hagel.

The 4th line makes a lot of sense as well and I'm really happy for Entwistle. He came into camp and impressed the coaching staff with his improved skating and overall game. He has appeared to grab that 4th line centre role that was left vacant by David Kampf.

On the backend, Seth Jones and Jake McCabe have had some awful performances in preseason, but they have been trending in the right direction as camp went on. I would start with de Haan and Seth Jones together with McCabe and Murphy to round out the top 4. I did not expect the Erik Gustafsson signing to happen. Wow. Ok. Well, I guess it makes sense when you think about it. With Kalynuk and Caleb Jones hurt for the time being, the Hawks need someone to be able to run that PP2 and add some offense from the back; Gustafsson can do that. And if he's in a sheltered 3rd pairing temporarily, I guess I can live with that. I can see him, Stillman, and Mitchell rotating for that bottom pairing. When Kalynuk comes back, depending on how those 3 are playing, he may be sent down to Rockford to get ramped back up. I didn't think he had that good of a camp to be honest. Caleb Jones on the other hand really impressed me and I think should be playing full-time once he's back and healthy.

In net, Fleury and Lankinen were no-brainers. I was a little surprised one of Delia or Subban didn't get claimed. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them traded in the first couple of weeks.

All in all, is this a playoff team? I think on paper it looks like it could be, however, the Central Division is going to be awfully difficult. I think they can get in but it won't be easy but it's sure going to be fun to watch! Let's Go Hawks!

Theo's Predictions

DeBrincat - T Johnson - Kane
Kurashev - Toews - Kubalik
Hagel - Dach - Borgstrom
Khaira - Entwistle - Carpenter

McCabe- S Jones
Stillman - Murphy
de Haan - Mitchell

Fleury

Extras: Strome, Gaudette, Gustafsson, Lankinen

The 1st line of Tyler Johnson centering DeBrincat and Kane should be an offensive force as long as they play elusive hockey as they have been able to do for a vast majority of their careers. But if opponents can overpower them, expect them to be split up.

The 2nd line of Toews centering Kurashev and Dominik Kubalik should be the team's best all-around unit with solid 200-foot players -- albeit Kubalik may be the weakest of the trio -- who can generate plenty of offense through cycling and finding seams.

The 3rd line of Dach centering Hagel and Borgstrom may prove to be a dynamic one with youth, skill, and compete level. None of them are slouches defensively and all of them have scoring ability. This line could put up 0.50 PPG or better if clicking.

The 4th line of Entwistle centering Jujhar Khaira and Ryan Carpenter should bring a fairly heavy style to make life tough on the opposition. In due course, though, Adam Gaudette should slot in for Carpenter once in a while and ideally full time by mid season.

Strome could see time on the 3rd line to spell Borgstrom on occasion so that he not only gets reps but can showcase his best self for a trade. Also, in the event that Toews needs to sit due to his chronic inflammatory response syndrome, Strome would fill in for him.

On the 1st D pair, Seth Jones could thrive more if he had a rock-solid defensive partner so he can balance reliable play in his own end with the ability to regularly join the attack. Jake McCabe makes most sense but Calvin de Haan could be an option as well.

On the 2nd D pair, Murphy is the anchor of a shutdown duo with one of McCabe, de Haan, or Riley Stillman. This unit may get the most defensive zone starts at even strength. For now, Stillman is Murphy's partner by virtue of who comprise the 1st and 3rd pairs.

On the 3rd D pair, de Haan mentored Ian Mitchell as his initial partner last season so that relationship may be one to leverage again to begin this season. Erik Gustafsson should get his turn on this pair with sheltered minutes except when serving as the PP2 quarterback.

Marc-Andre Fleury should get the nod on most nights as the starter but may eventually make way for Kevin Lankinen as the season progresses to lean more towards a 50/50 share of starts. Either way, Lankinen has a primo opportunity to learn from the future Hall of Famer.

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Readers' Poll Results

Also, thank you to those of you who casted ballots for the HockeyBuzz readers' poll to submit predictions across various categories for the 2021-22 Blackhawks season. Below are the poll results including predictions from both Tyler and me.

Who will be the team MVP?

* Patrick Kane, 40.1%
* Alex DeBrincat, 27.7%
* Marc-Andre Fleury, 16.8%
* Jonathan Toews, 10.9%

* Tyler's Prediction: Patrick Kane
* Theo's Prediction: Jonathan Toews

Who will be the best offensive forward?

* Patrick Kane, 65.7%
* Alex DeBrincat, 33.6%

* Tyler's Prediction: Patrick Kane
* Theo's Prediction: Patrick Kane

Who will be the best defensive forward?

* Jonathan Toews, 57.8%
* Brandon Hagel, 19.3%
* Kirby Dach, 4.4%
* MacKenzie Entwistle, 4.4%

* Tyler's Prediction: Kirby Dach
* Theo's Prediction: Jonathan Toews

Who will be the best offensive defenseman?

* Seth Jones, 86.9%
* Wyatt Kalynuk, 6.6%
* Erik Gustafsson, 2.9%
* Caleb Jones, 2.9%

* Tyler's Prediction: Seth Jones
* Theo's Prediction: Seth Jones

Who will be the best defensive defenseman?

* Jake McCabe, 49.6%
* Connor Murphy, 35.0%
* Seth Jones, 7.3%
* Calvin de Haan, 5.1%

* Tyler's Prediction: Connor Murphy
* Theo's Prediction: Connor Murphy

Who will be the best goalie?

* Marc-Andre Fleury, 94.1%
* Kevin Lankinen, 5.1%

* Tyler's Prediction: Marc-Andre Fleury
* Theo's Prediction: Marc-Andre Fleury

Who will be the top goal scorer?

* Alex DeBrincat, 75.9%
* Patrick Kane, 17.5%
* Dominik Kubalik, 5.8%

* Tyler's Prediction: Alex DeBrincat
* Theo's Prediction: Alex DeBrincat

Who will be the top sophomore (second year player)?

* Brandon Hagel, 65.2%
* Philipp Kurashev, 21.0%
* Henrik Borgstrom, 13.0%

* Tyler's Prediction: Philipp Kurashev
* Theo's Prediction: Philipp Kurashev

Who will be the top rookie?

* MacKenzie Entwistle, 46.3%
* Wyatt Kalynuk, 25.0%
* Lukas Reichel, 18.4%

* Tyler's Prediction: Wyatt Kalynuk
* Theo's Prediction: Wyatt Kalynuk

Who will be the comeback player of the year?

* Jonathan Toews, 64.2%
* Kirby Dach, 11.7%
* Adam Gaudette, 9.5%
* Tyler Johnson, 8.0%

* Tyler's Prediction: Jonathan Toews
* Theo's Prediction: Jonathan Toews

Who will be the most improved player?

* Kirby Dach, 33.8%
* Adam Gaudette, 14.7%
* Dylan Strome, 10.3%
* Henrik Borgstrom, 9.6%

* Tyler's Prediction: Adam Gaudette
* Theo's Prediction: Henrik Borgstrom

Who will be the unsung hero?

* Tyler Johnson, 18.1%
* Brandon Hagel, 17.4%
* Dominik Kubalik, 8.0%
* Adam Gaudette, 5.1%

* Tyler's Prediction: Brandon Hagel
* Theo's Prediction: Jujhar Khaira

Who will be the biggest disappointment?

* Alex Nylander, 27.7%
* Dylan Strome, 16.8%
* Erik Gustafsson, 10.2%
* Kirby Dach, 8.0%
* Dominik Kubalik, 4.4%

* Tyler's Prediction: Jake McCabe
* Theo's Prediction: Adam Gaudette

Who will be the first to get traded?

* Dylan Strome, 38.2%
* Alex Nylander, 21.3%
* Malcolm Subban, 19.9%
* Calvin de Haan, 6.6%
* Collin Delia, 5.9%
* Erik Gustafsson, 2.2%

* Tyler's Prediction: Malcolm Subban
* Theo's Prediction: Collin Delia

For the season opener vs the Avalanche, who will score the Blackhawks first goal?

* Alex DeBrincat, 31.2%
* Dominik Kubalik, 21.0%
* Tyler Johnson, 13.8%
* Henrik Borgstrom, 7.2%
* Brandon Hagel, 7.2%
* Kirby Dach, 6.5%
* Jonathan Toews, 5.1%

* Tyler's Prediction: Henrik Borgstrom
* Theo's Prediction: Dominik Kubalik

Who else will score in the season opener?

* Alex DeBrincat, 37.5%
* Jonathan Toews, 30.1%
* Patrick Kane, 28.7%
* Dominik Kubalik, 21.3%
* Brandon Hagel, 16.2%
* Kirby Dach, 14.7%
* Tyler Johnson, 14.7%
* Seth Jones, 11.8%
* Henrik Borgstrom, 10.3%

* Tyler's Prediction: Alex DeBrincat, Seth Jones, Tyler Johnson
* Theo's Prediction: Henrik Borgstrom, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Hagel

What will be the result of the season opener?

* Blackhawks lose by 2 goals, 39.1%
* Blackhawks lose by 1 goal, 23.9%
* Blackhawks win by 1 goal, 15.9%
* Blackhawks win by 2 goals, 15.9%
* Blackhawks lose by 3 or more goals, 5.1%

* Tyler's Prediction: Blackhawks lose by 1 goal (5-4)
* Theo's Prediction: Blackhawks lose by 1 goal (5-4)

Will there be a shutout in the season opener?

* No shutout, 100%

* Tyler's Prediction: No
* Theo's Prediction: No

What place in the Central Division will the Blackhawks be in by the end of the regular season?

* 3rd, 35.5%
* 4th, 35.5%
* 5th, 15.9%
* 2nd, 8.7%
* 6th, 2.9%
* 7th, 0.7%
* 1st, 0.7%
* 8th, no votes

* Tyler's Prediction: 5th
* Theo's Prediction: 3rd

Will the Blackhawks make the playoffs?

* Yes, 83.3%
* No, 16.7%

* Tyler's Prediction: Yes
* Theo's Prediction: Yes

If the Blackhawks make the playoffs, will they be in the top 3 in the Central Divsion or be a wildcard team?

* Wildcard team, 57.8%
* Top 3 in the Central Division, 42.2%

* Tyler's Prediction: Wildcard team
* Theo's Prediction: Top 3 in the Central Division

If the Blackhawks make the playoffs, how deep will they go?

* Eliminated in the 2nd round, 48.9%
* Eliminated in the 1st round, 34.3%
* Eliminated in the 3rd round, 12.4%
* Win the Stanley Cup, 3.6%
* Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Finals, 0.7%

* Tyler's Prediction: Eliminated in the 1st round
* Theo's Prediction: Eliminated in the 2nd round

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See you on the boards!

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