Let's do a quick recap on those baby Hawks to kick off this Monday morning.
The Blackhawks rookies are 1-1 after their first couple of games. They started off with a 4-3 loss on Friday to Columbus Jr.
Lankinen had an inconsistent start to the tournament with a couple weak goals but also made some great saves to keep Chicago in it.
Beaudin, Sikura and Fortin all scored. The top line of Sikura-Kahin-Fortin looked strong and Beaudin's name was brought up the most on the backend with his strong two-way play.
Next up, the Hawks turned to 2018 6th round pick Alexis Gravel on Saturday to take on the Hurricanes.
Ejdsell had a strong day with 2-goals. His shot is lights-out and NHL quality. Let's see how the rest of his game looks as he plays out this tournament and pre-season.
Fortin, Kahun and Beaudin also scored and the baby Hawks took this one 5-2.
The next game is tonight vs. St. Louis at 730pm. Then, tomorrow, we will see who is crowned champion after the final games take place.
One final note: just to temper expectations, guys like Ejdsell, Kahun, Nilsson and others who have played against men in pro leagues should be standing out in a tournament like this.
It's great to get a first look at these guys (and let's be honest, it's just exciting to see some hockey) but I'm really excited to see how these guys perform in training camp and how they perform against the best competition in the world.
Moving on to my next 3-part series of "Possible Line Combinations" with this edition focusing on the top 6.
This lineup is very fluid at this point. Stan Bowman didn't go out and acquire a top 6 forward to slide on to Jonathan Toews line or to play opposite Patrick Kane. He is doubling down on the growth from players like Debrincat and Schmaltz.
In the below, I would present 3 options of interesting, and possible line combinations for this upcoming season.
I listed out in my last blog that my top 6 looked a little something like this:
Now, that is subject to change (and I reserve the right to switch these up at any point) due to a last-minute trade or free agent signing (the latter less likely as there aren't any premier forwards remaining).
Also, there could be some magic chemistry with players during the pre-season that could make Coach Q's eraser go into overtime as he carves out his lineup for game #1 of the 2018-19 season.
It would be near impossible to look back at how the Hawks deployed their lines last year into too much depth because there was so much change throughout the year.
The Blackhawks used 20(!) forwards throughout the season last year. Probably an indication as to why they finish with 76 points and on the outside looking into the postseason.
We can, however, take a quick look at the top 5 line combinations that Coach Q rolled with as it relates to the amount of time they played together in a game. (source: Dobber Sports)
… and just for fun, here is what the season prior looked like.
The roster, as currently constructed is a top 6 forward short.
: Toews, Kane, Saad, Debrincat, Schmaltz
: Anismov, Sikura, Kahun, Ejdsell
Anisimov has proven to be a top 6 centre with 20 goals or more in 4 of his last 5 seasons. The problem is, the Hawks have Toews and Schmaltz scheduled in as there top 2 pivots. So, AA will most likely anchor the 3rd line.
Sure, the big Russian could slide to LW but I don't think the Hawks have the depth at centre to afford to move him out of the middle. Also, using him on the wing would severely diminish Anisimov's trade value if the Hawks want to move him during the length of his contract.
Also, before I lay out my options for top 6 combinations, I will say that just because I have someone on the top 2 lines doesn't mean that they are a sure-fire top 6 quality player.
Most times, a player will find themselves in the top 6 because of skill, however, sometimes it's because of their chemistry with another player, a unique skill set or, maybe it's out of necessity.
The Hawks depth has been challenged over the years and this season is going to be the biggest challenge they've seen in a decade.
Also, I know some hate, hate, hate seeing line combinations. Well, the reason I do this is not to play fantasy coach, but rather to explore where the Hawks current roster sits in terms of depth, chemistry and prediction of what could happen on the trade front or later on in the season.
I've already called out that the Hawks have a limited number of right-handed forwards projected to make this team. So, keep an eye out for a PTO invite or trade in the future there.
Now, let's take a peek into how Coach Q and Co. can shape this Hawks top 6 into a successful and potent group:
As listed above, this is where I have landed today for the Hawks top lines.
Saad-Schmaltz-Kane were called out by Coach Q as an option and I think there is a good possibility they start as a line.
It's been apparent that the Hawks have been searching for a compliment to Kane skills since Bowman traded Panarin. Well, maybe that player was in that trade.
Panarin and Saad are obviously different players, but Kane tends to succeed when playing with a bigger forward on his line to help retrieve pucks and drive the net. Guys like Anisimov and even Handzus have played this role in the past.
Saad can offer that on Kane's line because 88 will also have a player with high-end skill to work with in Schmaltz. Kane and Saad will just have to decide who's shooting the puck; they were the Blackhawks top shots leaders at 285 and 237 respectively.
Schmaltz is looking to take an even bigger step this year and by solidifying himself on Kane's line will help him (and potentially his bank account as he plays for his next contract).
Toews centering a line with Debrincat and Hayden could really work out for Quenneville as well.
Toews and Debincat have seen some success together at times last year. Debrincat will need to show that his rookie year was no fluke and help carry the offence in a full-time top 6 role.
I know, I know, John Hayden in the top 6? Well by putting him and his 6'3 / 220 lbs frame there, he will really help Toews out with the heavy lifting.
As I rewatched some games from last year, I watched Hayden play on a line with Debrincat and Schmaltz. He didn't appear to have any issues keeping up with those guys and I think that's mostly in part to his high hockey IQ.
Hayden would be used as a bit of a protector to Debrincat on this line.
Finally, by having Hayden up on this line, the Hawks create more balance throughout their forward group with a potential 3rd line of Kahun-Anisimov-Sikura.
Why doesn't Coach Q just play The Cat, Schmaltz and Kane together? Well, I would assume it's because no one on that line is a forechecking, puck retrieving, crash-to-the-net, board battling type of guy. So, if no one on that line is strong at getting the puck back and grinding out turnovers, then they would be playing a lot of defence.
A better solution could be a Debrincat-Toews-Kane line. This would make Toews' life a little harder than his linemates in Option 1, however, he might reap the rewards more on a line like this.
Toews wins more draws than anyone on the team and puck possession on a Patrick Kane line is always a recipe for success.
Debrincat would do his best Artemi Panarin impression on the LW as he looks to use his great shot on his off-wing via one-timers off Kane's setup.
The "Triple S" line… I like it.
Saad-Schmaltz-Sikura could form a solid offensive trio, using their speed and youthfulness to their advantage. With an average age of 22.6 years young, the Triple S's would have a lot of creativity in Schmaltz and Sikura on this line, complemented by Saad driving the net and offering a bit of size on that line.
If Schmaltz's faceoff woes continue, Sikura could step in and see if he fared any better as he came up as a centre earlier in his career.
Before you think this line could have issues defensively, keep in mind that Saad was 3rd in CF% 56.7 and was a staple on the PK, Nick Schmaltz also found himself 4th in forwards (102 mins) while his team was shorthanded and was 3rd(!) in the league in takeaways with 86.
In Dylan Sikura's short stint, he appeared to know what he was doing in all areas of the ice. So, I think they would be just fine.
Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews have spent a lot of time playing together across 4 seasons.
On the surface, the Panarin+ for Saad+ trade was about "cost certainty" for the cap-stricken Blackhawks, but there was no secret about them searching for a LW for Jonathan Toews.
Their reunion last year's reunion wasn't the most fireworks worthy and left both players with campaigns that dipped to their career lows.
What better way to lift them back up to where they both know they can be, and where the team NEEDS them to be, by putting Alex Debincat on their line.
These 3 played a little bit last year together with some success, but having a longer time together could really benefit the Hawks.
The entrance of the darkhorse to sneak into top 6 comes in the form of Victo Ejdsell.
Fresh off a 2-goal performance in Traverse City, the 23-year old finds himself on one of Chicago's top lines.
In Ejdsell's 6 NHL games and 5 regular season AHL contests last year, he looked like a young player searching for consistency in his game. It would have been difficult coming over late in the season, in a new city and a smaller ice surface to find success.
However, once Colliton shifted him to the wing in Rockford for their playoff run, he took off. His lethal shot was on display scoring 7 goals in 13 games. Some of those goals were really important goals.
Schmaltz and Kane get a big winger that can help them create space in the offensive zone in Ejdsell.
Ejdsell is a left-handed shot as well so an ideal scenario as a natural centre, would be to take all the draws on his strong side, while the righty, Nick Schmaltz did the same. This could improve faceoff wins, thus better puck possession to ultimately get Patrick Kane the puck.
There you have it.
Next up is the possible line combinations for the bottom 6 for the Chicago Blackhawks of 2018-19.
See ya out there!