New Year, New You – 15 Blackhawks Thoughts
It has begun.
The Hawks played their first preseason game last night, losing a 4-1 match to the Blue Jackets on the road. They will look to try again for a win tomorrow vs. Detroit (730pm EST).
It's only one game in, but I have some thoughts on individuals from last night's game. I will reserve comments on the overall team game and special teams until there are more veterans in the lineup.
The Hawks were outshot 31-22, outhit 20-14 and dominated in the faceoff 38-20. However, there were some nice individual efforts – let's take a look:
1) The top line last night was what is slated to be the 3rd line in Chicago this year in Dylan Sikura, Anisimov and Ejdsell. I liked Anisimov's game last night and thought he was a solid leader out there for that line. Sikura had a strong game but will need to limit those neutral zone turnovers or he'll be riding the pine on a Quenneville coached team. That line as a whole was a combined -5.
2) Victor Ejdsell had some nice flashes but overall, I wasn't impressed. I would like to see Kahun or Highmore tried on that line. One knock about Ejdsell at times last year was his lack of shots. It appeared he took the advice of the coaching staff in Traverse City and was among the tournament leaders in SOG but last night was only able to register 1 shot in 15:25 of ice time.
3) Whatever combination of players ends up on that 3rd line, there needs to be production. The Hawks top 6 should be able to figure into a lot of the scoring while playing key roles on the PP. The 4th line will be fine for a few goals and may turn into a shutdown type line with some sort of mashup of Kruger/Hayden/Martinsen/Kunitz/Kampf. The real key to the Hawks success this year could come from that 3rd line scoring punch. Anisimov is what he is and if Sikura is on that line, I like their ability to get the puck through the neutral zone, but that 3rd member needs to produce as well.
4) Matthew Highmore could be a candidate for that role. After 24 goals in Rockford last year, he proved he can score at the pro level. He looked fast and engaged last night. You have to love that guy's forecheck and… relentlessness.
5) There's a reason Joel Quenneville was voted by the entire NHLPA as the coach players would like to play for the most. He's a player's coach and gives his guys more time off than most. He also is as compassionate as they come for a sports coach. I liked the move last night putting Highmore and Noel on the same line. They played parts of 4 seasons together in the QMJHL and are best buds.
6) Speaking of Nathan Noel, he's a little firecracker, isn't he? I love the spark to his game and if he can show that he can put up respectable offensive numbers. If not, I believe he will get lost in the shuffle. He did have 50 points in 52 games in his last season in the Q but only managed 1 goal in 17 games for Rockford. The former 4th rounder from 2016 is 5'11 / 174 lbs. A very familiar size and style to a former Blackhawk in Andrew Shaw.
7) Marcus Kruger was the only Hawks that looked solid at the dot last night going 5/8. He also looked like… well, Marcus Kruger. I think he will anchor that 4th line and put last season in the past. If he hits any slumps in his game along the way the Hawks have David Kampf to insert in his place.
8) Up front, I also liked Kahun's speed and two-way game, Fortin had some bursts and I think the Hawks really found a good one in Philipp Kurashev. Kurashev looked older than 18 years old out there and plays a really smart game in all zones. He is years away but some real nice potential as a centre.
9) I thought Erik Gustafsson was very solid as the "vet" on defence. He had 7 shots and was really involved in the play offensively. He would be best utilized on the 3rd pairing in Chicago this year and deployed as an offensive weapon alongside a partner that was sound defensively.
10) Is Carl Dahlstrom that compliment to his countryman, Gustafsson? He had a real solid game last night and very well could be working his way on the team. The Hawks staff could loke to use him as a 6th/7th dman. He could rotate in and out of the lineup with a guy like Davidson. This is a role that Coach Q has already stated he will not put Jokiharju in. If Henri makes the team, it's as an everyday player.
11) What did everyone think of Jokiharju's game last night? At 23:03, he led the team in ice time meaning he was definitely tested by the coaching staff to see how he would handle being used in all situations. I thought he had a solid game and has the skill set that the Hawks could really use from the backend. Like Gustafsson, Jokiharju can really skate the puck out of the Hawks end and through the neutral zone. The Hawks desperately need more of this as they can't only employ pass-first guys in Seabrook, Keith, Manning and Murphy.
12) Brandon Davidson is another guy who can skate the puck to safety at times. He moves well for a big guy and has a nice physical edge to his game. He's on his way to an NHL contract as the Hawks depth guy.
13) Mark Lazerus tweeted last night. "Here's the thing. Brandon Davidson should probably be here on the contract and Brandon Manning should be probably here on the PTO." It's hard to argue with that. I will reserve judgment until I see more of Manning, but it looks like a guy like Davidson is a very similar player and the Hawks, if they sign him, will be looking at a 1-year / 800k(ish) type deal. If it were me, I would have gone with an offseason play of Cam Ward, Calvin de Haan (giving him his 4 years @ 4.55M per) and a guy like Davidson (1-year / 800k(ish). But hey, I'm not Stan.
14) Adam Boqvist played tentatively at times but also showed what he's capable of as well in his 18+ minutes. With CHL training camps kicking off, I would say he's heading to London very shortly to join his new team. It's great for him to get some NHL preseason action though.
15) Ward and Delia were OK. I'm not putting too much weight into their games until they have an NHL calibre defence in front of them.
Those were the key highlights and players that I wanted to focus on after the game. I also had a kid screaming in my face because she wanted to watch Peppa Pig instead, so there's a chance I missed a couple things.
What do you see out there last night?
See ya out there!