Possible Line Combinations: Defence + Training Camp Notes
Ladies and Gentlemen, hockey season is upon us.
The Hawks kicked off their on-ice camp on Friday. There were a few surprises to digest after Friday's kick-off and post-skate reports. Let's dive into them:
* Connor Murphy hurt (back) and out of commish for 8 weeks
* Seabrook day-to-day but returned to the ice yesterday
* Speaking of injuries, moving forward the team will now disclose more specifics.
* Corey Crawford lives and has now been on the ice 2 of the last 3 days working with Jimmy Waite on shooting drills
Other storylines include Chris Kunitz getting a shot on the "top" line with Toews and Debrincat.
I heard when they signed Kunitz on July 1st that there was a possibility that he could play with Toews. I didn't think much of it at the time and didn't include them on a line in my top 6 line possibilities, however, it looks like he's getting a first-look there.
In theory, it makes sense. Well, Chris Kunitz 5 years ago would have been PERFECT on a line with Toews. Let's see what he has left in the tank. He will also serve as a bit of a protector to Debrincat on that line. He's not a heavyweight by any means but he is a tough customer and has a nice bite to his game.
We will learn more about who really looks good out there tomorrow for the Hawks first preseason game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. Puck drop is at 6 pm (CT) and you can head over to the Hawks official site for broadcast details.
Moving on to our final edition to our "Possible Line Combinations", we examine the defenders.
A couple practices and a scrimmage later, I'm cheating a little bit after seeing into Coach Q's crystal ball in how the defence will play out, but glad I waited as the Connor Murphy news complicates things.
Murphy was slated to be in the top 4 to start the year, so losing a guy like that is never ideal.
So, who takes his place?
Quenneville had (high) praise for 19-year old, Henri Jokiharju. There's a real possibility that he makes this team.
Once I heard the RHD Murphy was out until mid-November/December to keep an eye out for LHD to get an opportunity on their off-sides as Jokiharju won't be handed the job.
Those frontrunner lefties include Blake Hillman, Carl Dahlstrom and PTO invite - Brandon Davidson.
I heard over the weekend that depending on whether the Hawks coaching staff believes Jokiharju is ready or not, Stan may look for an outside replacement for Murphy.
Brandon Davidson is on a PTO right now and he's played top 4 minutes in the past but is more a 5-6 guy at this point. We see how he looks (and who he's paired with) in game action. He may have an opportunity to gain a full-time spot with a strong tryout.
So, let's look at the options based on what we saw over the weekend, what I've been hearing and what we know of these players now.
Brent Seabrook returned to the Hawks after a minor injury kept him out for fitness testing and skate #1.
I used to fake injuries in school before I big test and I thought maybe Seabrook was dodging the fitness test like a 9-year old Justin would have before a big math test. However, that does not appear to be the case.
Pictures were emerging this summer of a slim(mer) Seabs and Coach Q's comments reinforce that those weren't just strategically photoshopped pics planted by the Seabrook camp to get people off his back.
Quenneville stated that, even though Brent couldn't participate in the fitness testing, it "way better than he's ever been".
This is a really good sign.
Q then went on to say that Keith and Seabrook could be reunited as a pair. They had a rough go last year but obviously, have a long history of playing with each other.
Moving on to the other pairings; Coach Q had been pleased with what he's seen from Brandon Manning. He's a Q type player and from what I heard, the Hawks really view Manning as a solid character, veteran player that they felt they were missing last year to help Keith and Seabrook last year.
It appears the coaching staff is trying Jan Rutta back in that shutdown type role. If he and Manning stick together, expect them to get the highest amount of DZ% starts.
Erik Gustafsson could work perfectly on the bottom pairing this year and used almost as a specialist. He's skating and offensive ability if better than most on the team, but he needs to be utilized properly. He has a lot of deficiencies still in his own end and needs to be paired with someone who can cover/compliment his game.
A bit of a forgotten man, Carl Dahlstrom could be that guy. As mentioned above, he's a guy who can effectively play both the left and right side. He's more of a stay-at-home dman who will have to prove himself (quickly) if he wants to take that next step to the NHL this year.
The pairings in option 1 have an obvious exclusion in Henri Jokiharju. I'm not saying either way if he makes it or not. More signs are pointing to him being ready to make this team, but I believe these preseason games will determine a lot.
If he is ready to make an impact, Jokiharju, paired with Keith would do wonders for this Hawks' backend.
From there, Gustafsson and Seabrook have familiarity and could round out the top 4.
Manning and Rutta stay together in my mind and would be used defensively and on the PK.
Here is the last scenario, another one where Jokiharju doesn't make it.
This option is one, that if Brandon Davidson comes in and really impresses the Hawks staff, launches himself to play along Duncan Keith on the right side.
Davidson showed in Edmonton that he could slide into the top 4 position when needed and was really on a great trajectory with the Oilers in his early 20's.
He was a top pairing defender in the AHL for a few years, playing a shutdown role.
He can hit, block shots and jump in on the offense at times.
Speaking of blocking shots; I heard the Hawks really wanted to get some help in that area to help their goalies out.
Obviously losing Niklas Hjalmarsson was a huge hit to that shot blocking category based on his individual stats, however, he was also very infectious in that regard. He was a warrior and jumped in front of anything which got the rest of the D involved.
2017-18 = 1199 overall as a team (Seabrook – 170, Keith – 165, Murphy – 101, Oesterle – 97, Rutta – 64)
2016-17 = 1226 (Hammer – 181, Seabrook – 147, Keith – 107, TVR – 100, Campbell - 83)
2015-16 = 1133 (TVR – 155, Hammer – 151, Seabrook – 150, Keith – 116, Rozsival – 63)
So while it doesn't appear that the Hawks were that much lower last year with 1199 overall blocked shots as a team, there is a big difference to call out.
The Hawks in the past 10 years have transformed into a puck possession team but in the last few years have been slipping a bit in the category.
This means the increase in shots heading towards the Hawks netminders. Also, the quality of shots has gone up significantly. Below is the trend over the last few years.
Shots Against Trend:
2017-18 - 2683 (league avg. 2609)
2016-17 – 2,568 (league avg. 2,468)
2015-16 – 2,519 (league avg. 2,426)
The Hawks are obviously looking to possess the puck more but the realistic outcome would be that they need to be better overall defensively; this means limits those high-quality shots and the amount that gets through by blocking more.
Thoughts so far on training camp and where how you see the Hawks defence panning out this year?
See ya out there!