Central Division Predictions + Traverse City Recap
We have a few things on the agenda today.
First, I will have a quick recap from Traverse City. Second, I will go through my final Central Preview… some guys named the Chicago Blackhawks. Lastly, I will have my Central Division predictions.
The 2019 Traverse City Rookie Tournament had some bright spots for the Blackhawks but overall from a performance standpoint, it was "meh".
The Hawks finished 2-2. Here are the outcomes of each game:
Win (OT) - 5-4 vs. Detroit
Loss – 6-3 vs. Toronto
Loss – 4-2 vs. St. Louis
Win – 6-1 vs. Minnesota
Chicago finishes in 7th place out of 8 teams. This is not ideal but hard to judge considering the structure of the tournament.
If the Hawks had beat Toronto in game #2 they could have very easily been playing for 3rd.
The tournament ended on a bad note when the Wild came out yesterday like the frggin' Broad Street Bullies resulting in injuries to Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, Philipp Kurashev and Mikael Hakkarainen.
It appears that all were removed from the game for precautionary reason and none are deemed "serious".
Overall, there were a lot of positives and instead of calling out all the players, I have built a Traverse City All-Star Team for the Blackhawks compiling of 3 forwards (any position), 2 defence and 1 goalie:
Philipp Kurashev – the soon-to-be 20-year-old Swiss centre had an average first game of the tournament, however, after that #71 was all over the ice. He looked dominant at times and while some think he might be suited better on wing, I love how he plays the centre position. He was hurt (upper and lower body) on a tough hit in the corner yesterday; let's hope he's good to go for Friday.
Tim Soderlund – the 21-year-old Swede got better and better as the tournament went on. He maybe didn't put up as many points as others but his overall game is really well suited for the North American ice and excited to see how his role expands in Rockford.
Mikael Hakkarainen – to close out the line the played together for most of the tournament, Hakkarainen is my last selection. He was really good and really consistent for the duration of the tournament. He's even got the chipped teeth to prove it. He will be ready to go on Friday. It will be interesting if the natural C plays wing this year in Rockford.
Nicolas Beaudin – he was quiet and consistent all tournament. Beaudin could slowly turn into a leader on the backend in Rockford this year. I've mentioned that he Adam Boqvist could see some time together as they have in the past which would be a testament to Beaduin's two-way game considering how Boqvist plays.
Adam Boqvist – I am including him on this list not because he was offensively dominant and took over the tournament… because he didn't. However, when he was in the game (he sat vs. St. Louis and was injured yesterday), he really looked like he was working on his overall game. Boqvist looks more competent in the defensive zone and very impressed on how he was closing gaps in the neutral zone. He will see time in Chicago at some point this season.
Alexis Gravel - he was great in the 2 games he played. The Hawks really have a nice pool of goaltending prospects which we haven't been able to say for years.
Don't worry that Kirby Dach isn't on this list. If he would have played in all games, I'm sure he would have made my list. However, he sat vs. St. Louis and then was injured yesterday against the Wild (he did score a goal before he left though). He maybe would have still made my All-Star team if he had a better game vs. Toronto. He also had a bit of a meltdown with his frustrations boiling over. He will learn. Let's hope he's good for Friday.
I thought Brandon Hagel and MacKenzie Entwistle played well for most of the tournament too.
On defence, outside of Beaudin and Boqvist, I think Cole Moberg was the nicest surprise. He was elevated up to the top pairing with Boqvist sitting and looks like a nice project prospect. Dennis Gilbert was solid as the Captain and will look to build on that steadiness in the AHL this year. Chad Krys was a disappointment for me; I was expecting more.
Most pundits have deemed the Chicago Blackhawks as a playoff bubble team this offseason. I would have to agree.
I like what Stan Bowman did this offseason and think if it all clicks, then the Hawks will be back to the postseason come April 2020.
Let's take a look at the final preview in the Central Division.
Do we have to look at a recap of the 2018-19 Blackhawks?
So the firing of Joel Quenneville was obviously a big deal and I think most of us agree that this move (if the Hawks were going to make it) should have been done in the offseason.
Jeremy Colliton came in and has done an admirable job with what he had to work with. He also had to deal with the players being in shock from losing their HHOF coach and leader, as well as being a 30-something-year-old bench boss in the NHL.
This year, it's a clean slate and Stan Bowman – as mentioned above – has had a nice offseason providing Coach Colliton with the best roster he's had in his early tenure as a big-league boss.
You all know this, but let's look at "Who's In" and "Who's Out":
Who's IN: Shaw, Carpenter, Nylander, Wedin, Quenneville, Saarela, Maatta, de Haan, Lehner
Who's OUT: Kahun, Hayden, Kruger, Martinsen, Kunitz, Jokiharju, Forsling, Ward
Kubalik/Nylander – Toews – Kane
DeBrincat – Strome – Shaw
Saad – Dach – Perlini
Caggiula/Smith – Kampf – Carpenter
Keith – Gustafsson
Maata – Murphy
De Haan – Seabrook
No one get upset about the projected lines above. We all know it's going to be a dogfight for a couple of those forward positions. It could shake out a variety of different ways. This is what I have right now.
In terms of how the team will play? Well, they have to stop a lot more pucks going into the net than last year.
I believe with the defensive additions, as well as the veterans like Shaw, Carpenter and Smith upfront will help immensely.
In terms of goal scoring, I don't think that's going away if they can recapture that magic on the Power Play.
Finally, I think having a full training camp with Colliton and not having an early in-season Quenneville-level shock will benefit this team.
Are they are a playoff team? I think they are close but they are in the toughest divisions in the league in my opinion so they are going to have to fight all year.
Let's take a look at how I see the Central in 2019-20:
FINAL Central Division Predictions
St. Louis Blues
Jets fans are going to hate me but I really think they took a huge hit this offseason and still have unsigned Laine and Connor to deal with.
By those predictions, the Blackhawks will be in the bubble of making the playoffs. I think it will be a fight to the end with the Hawks.
This is how I see the division shaking out as we stand today on September 11th. I obviously reserve the right to change these picks at any point during the season.
How do you see the Central Division playing out this year?
I will be back later on in the week to chat about Blackhawks training camp, which opens this tomorrow with physicals. To see the entire camp roster, head on over to Chicagoblackhawks.com.
See ya out there!