The core group of players has even seen a small shuffle, as Artemi Panarin was thought to be one of those guys who would be sticking around for the long haul, he's out for the returning Brandon Saad, who should add a little bit more grit to the lineup. Marian Hossa goes out of the lineup, due to a skin condition and is not expected to play this season and another returning player should be occupying his spot in Patrick Sharp. The blueline isn't going to be the same either, as they moved out an anchor like Niklas Hjalmarsson and they will be putting their faith in 24-year old Connor Murphy in his place.
The Blackhawks have seen some positive results with their well-paid core group of players and the shuffling of depth players, hoping for good chemistry and even better results. This will be the season, where it will be imperative that their best players are indeed playing at their best and that the new faces mesh well with the existing players, forming a winning bond through the year.
Table last updated on August 6th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
As the Blackhawks shifted a fair bit of scoring out of their lineup, it will be more a matter of trying to find where they are going to get their magic from, within the organization.
Last season, forward Nick Schmaltz finally jumped into a semi-regular spot with the team, playing in 61 games and posting 6 goals and 28 points, not far out of the pool worthiness conversation. This year, with Panarin and Hossa out, there are going to be spots in the top six that need to be filled and the 2014 1st round pick has to have an inside track on one of those spots, one would have to believe.
I have projected the Blackhawks a little lower than in previous years, but if this team is going to rebound from a tough opening round sweep in the playoffs, they will need a kid like Schmaltz to help lead the way.
First Round Picks
It's beginning to look a lot like last year! Both Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford were projected to be opening round picks for the Blackhawks last season and I believe they both were in the draft, but only Kane finished in the top 25 in scoring, although Crawford wasn't too far behind at 35th. These two are part of a very tight core in Chicago and as they go, the Blackhawks go right now.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
On the list, there are five more forwards that should join Kane and Schmaltz as pool worthy, beginning with Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov, Patrick Sharp and Richard Panik. The return of Saad and Sharp to the Blackhawks lineup is very intriguing, as they haven't found the successes they saw when they were in Chicago previously and now the gang is back together. Can familiarity breed more points? I think so.
Other Pool Worthy Defense
The defense doesn't feel quite as deep as years previous, but the dynamic duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still around and their numbers should still be more than reasonable for a good year in the hockey pool. In the off-season, Niklas Hjalmarsson went to Arizona and in his place comes another pool worthy defender in Connor Murphy, who could be a really good, young add to this Blackhawks blueline.
Goaltending after Crawford is a bit of a toss up. Two new faces will go to battle for the back-up position, J-F Berube and Anton Forsberg, both of which are coming from teams that already were stacked up ahead of them in the crease. Berube has the extra experience over Forsberg, but I wouldn't quite count out the Swede, until we see what he has in camp. I have them splitting the role right now, but I would probably pick one to be worthy by the time the draft happens.
Team To Pick From Late?
Beyond those players that we know should be picking up the points, there are a few names on the list that could mop up a few extra bonus points on this list, which would make them pool worthy, if all things go their way. Forwards Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza, defensemen Gustav Forsling or Michal Kempny... all four could have some potential, if you're looking for those sleeper picks.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
Only one restricted free agent left on the list, forward Laurent Dauphin, who they acquired in the off-season from Arizona, who appeared in 24 games for the lowly Coyotes last season. I don't expect him to appear much in Chicago, when he signs, but he's an option.
With all the shuffling done, the Blackhawks have done well to manage a solid looking roster and still keep $4.125 million in unused space, according to my current projection. Any swaps, in and out. shouldn't affect that number too greatly. Chicago could be in really good shape this year.
The aging veteran Patrick Sharp had season-ending hip surgery in March, while he was playing with the Dallas Stars and it will be very interesting to see how he can rebound from that in the 2018 season. Obviously, the Blackhawks wouldn't have signed him to a deal, no matter how cheap, if he wasn't going to be cleared for play this coming season, but the 35-year old is starting to wear down in the latter part of his career and a limited role will likely be where he ends up this season.