From everything we've heard this offseason from Stan Bowman and Jeremy Colliton, it looks like the Hawks have 4 of their top 6 figured out.
Toews and Kane will start the season together; as will Strome and DeBrincat.
So we're looking at:
X – Toews – Kane
DeBrincat – Strome – X
Obviously, things can change overnight. Maybe there is some undeniable chemistry and a line like Saad-Toews-Shaw surfaces, however, for the purpose of this blog, I'm sticking with the above duos on L1 and L2 to determine who those "X" factors could be.
Let's kick it off as we analyze line 1 with Toews and Kane.
19 and 88 need a LW. Who's the next fitted for this line? Well, while these guys will need someone that has a lot of skill, high hockey IQ and the speed to keep up, we have also seen a guy like Drake Caggiula fit nicely with the OG Wunder Kids.
Let's start with the aforementioned Drake Caggiula – While the 25-year-old winger does have some skill but has never put up big numbers in his first 3 seasons in the NHL. He reached career highs with 33 points in 55 games last year splitting time between Edmonton and Chicago.
Why did Caggiula fit so well with Toews and Kane? Well, he's a little like Shaw in what he brings on the ice in terms of his will to win every single battle in every zone, a little grit and he does possess that high hockey IQ needed to play with the elite talent of Toews and Kane.
Will he start the year on the LW with Toews and Kane? I don't believe so thanks to the depth that Bowman has acquired this summer. He's better suited for a 3rd or 4th line energy role, however, don't put it past Colliton to go back to the well with this line if he struggles to find chemistry elsewhere.
Andrew Shaw – Shawzie is familiar with playing with both 19 and 88. He can also play LW or RW so he will appear twice in this blog as he could fit on line 2 as well.
For all the reason listed above for Caggiula being a fit, Shaw is a nice candidate to play with Toews and Kane. He's also a right-handed shot as well and Kane tends to like having at least one of those on his line.
Also, I'm not convinced that Shaw was brought in to merely fill a 3rd line role with this team. He might end up there, but after showing success with a couple of very skilled players in MTL (Drouin and Domi), why not keep the offensive mojo going with 65. I think he ends up on L1 or L2.
Alexander Nylander – the young Swede is a real wild card and could mess up a lot of line projections heading into training camp.
Nylander can also play both wings, so he will also appear twice in this article.
He is a right-handed shot as well and his high hockey IQ and creativity in the offensive zone could be the perfect match for Patrick Kane.
The only thing is, poor Jonathan Toews will have to do most of the grunt work as Nylander and Kane are more perimeter players. I'm sure 19 would prefer Caggiula or Shaw if you asked him after a couple of drinks, however, he could reap the benefits of Nylander and Kane as his wingers by heading to the net like and cleaning up the garbage like Johnny has been so good at over the years.
Another reason I would like to see Nylander on this line is, while he isn't a burner with his speed, the way he skates and slows down the play is very similar to Kane (not Kane level… relax… just the style). If given the chance and Nylander and Kane find early chemistry, it could be the turnaround to 92's career he's been looking for. The question is… will he even get a look at LW1 – that'll be up to Colliton and Nylander's performance in camp.
Dominik Kubalik – I will make this short; I believe Kubalik is better suited as a RW. He very well could end up here but I still like him for RW2 or RW3.
Brandon Saad – I'm sure new dad Brandon would love the opportunity to play with 19 and 88. He's seen tons of success with Toews in his past when Hossa was on the other wing, however, I feel like 20's game has evolved over the years and I saw a change specifically when Colliton took over.
Saad is best when he can grab the puck coming out of the neutral zone and head full tilt towards the opposing defenders and drive the net. This has worked well with Toews and Hossa in the past because they could be successful playing a very similar style. The trio became a physical force down-low as well with a dominant cycle game.
This is not how Patrick Kane likes to play. Kane likes to have the puck on his stick and creative cut, dip and shift his way through the neutral zone and continue that into the offensive end.
With that in mind, I don't think Saad is a fit for L1. Moving on.
Conclusion: honestly, I still don't really know until the other lines shake out. Kirby Dach is a wild card as the 3C but if he makes the team that changes things. Same goes for Alex Nylander.
If I had to make a choice today it would be Andrew Shaw with Nylander as a dark horse if he can gain instant chemistry with Kaner.
Now, on to Line 2 who is in need of a RW:
Andrew Shaw – while I have Shaw as a good possibility of playing with Toews and Kane, he actually might be better suited to do all the dirty work on line 2.
Strome has some size and shows nice patience down low; I can see him gelling nicely with Shaw. Also, as mentioned above, Shaw showed nice offensive flair with a couple younger, talented players in MTL last year. I wouldn't be shocked to see 12-17-65 as a line.
Alexander Nylander – DeBrincat and Strome, like the requirements of L1, would benefit from having a Caggiula or Shaw type grinder on their line.
Nylander is not that but just like the rationale above, if his skill game can sync up nicely with Strome and DeBrincat he could very well find himself on L2.
Nylander's game is better suited for the top 6 but a spot won't be handed to him. He will need to work his but off and produce if he gets an opportunity.
He's also been more of a passer than a shooter, so if I were him on this line, I'd be locked for DeBrincat at every chance that made sense.
Dominik Kubalik – the trend continues of wingers brought up as possibilities for L1.
I said it above and I've mentioned it many times, I see Kubalik as a RW… not a LW. Granted this is in the limited time I've watched him in game action and highlights.
Kubalik is big, has speed and the skill to go along with it.
I think he might be best suited for a secondary option on the 3rd line with -let's say Saad and Dach/Kampf – it's a good chance the soon-to-be 24 year old's game would translate best in the top 6.
I can envision a line of DeBrincat-Strome-Kubalik that would keep opponents on their toes in the offensive zone with a deadly DeBrincat one-timer from the left and Kubalik's shot from the right.
Brandon Saad – Saad would really help this line on the right-side. He's defensively responsible (which this line could use) but as mentioned above, 20 is more of a one-and-down type offensive player. He's really good at it and it would be better for this line, but I still think his destiny is on the 3rd line… and that's an excellent thing for the Blackhawks.
Saad's presence on the 3rd line (along with Smith or Shaw) could allow for an easier transition for a rookie centre named Kirby.
Brendan Perlini – the forgotten man. If Perlini would just convince his agent to take a 1 year / $1.25M deal, I think this could get done today. Originally, Perlini's camp might have been looking for a closer to $2M AAV; now as the summer has gone on and other comparables have passed him.
I think this deal gets done and personally hope it does. A 1-year deal around $1M-1.3M is doable cap-wise for Chicago and it gives them a nice (yet streaky) depth option in their lineup.
Perlini saw some success with DeBrincat and Strome and if he could play with a little more consistency and physicality, he would be an everyday player – possible on L2.
Conclusion: Honestly, a lot is hanging on Alex Nylander for me with these lines. I don't think they would have traded Henri Jokiharju if they didn't think he was capable of playing in the NHL this season.
Nylander could end up on either line 1 or 2 but I think he is more likely to end up with Toews and Kane. If he does Shaw is in this spot. If Nylander doesn't make the team out of camp, then Shaw to LW1 and Kubalik would be my selection here at RW2.
As you can see, there are some options for Colliton to work with this year. The Hawks are much deeper this year but with this many options comes a challenge as well.
With the dog-fight the Blackhawks will be entering this season within the Central Division, Colliton must find chemistry early on with this team as they begin the season in Europe.
You'll notice I didn't have Dach up there as a winger as I believe if he makes this team, it will be as a centre. To be successful as a 19-year old C in the NHL, the Hawks would be wise to pair him with a veteran who's played the position before like Zach Smith and/or Andrew Shaw.
Other dark horses include Zach Smith, Dylan Sikura, Anton Wedin, Aleksi Saarela, Brandon Hagel and Matthew Highmore.
Who do you like best for LW on Line 1? Who's your favourite to feed DeBrincat passes on L2?
See ya out there!