Here we are, folks, with another regular season about to begin. The Blackhawks will open this one as they have two others recently, by raising a banner to commemorate another Stanley Cup victory.
But once that banner joins the other five in the rafters, then the Blackhawks get to work. Yes, they’ll have that target on their backs. And no, no bringing up the term “Cup hangover” – well, except for that time right there. But for a team that went through some offseason changes again, there are questions again. So let’s look at Five Questions (or Things, if you’re into continuity) entering the Blackhawks’ season.
1. Is Artemi Panarin the real deal? An upper-body injury denied Panarin most of the preseason, with him getting into that final game on Saturday. Those of us watching, including the Blackhawks, only have the small sample size from which to draw. Still, it looked promising. Panarin is like Teuvo Teravainen the last two years. The talent is there; it’s all about him adjusting to life on and off the (North American) ice. That turned out pretty well for Teravainen, didn’t it?
[MORE HAWKS: Teuvo Teravainen likely to start season at wing]
2. Is Teravainen starting on the wing the right call? Personally, I say it is. Yes, the Blackhawks worked with him at center, and we all know how this goes: he could be back there by next week. But Teravainen is more suited to the wing. The kid has play-making skills, as we all saw during the Stanley Cup Final; he can work from his bag of tricks a lot better at wing than at center. Keep him on the wing as much as possible.
3. Will Bryan Bickell put together the season he needs? The Blackhawks wanted to jolt the left wing. And when they placed him on waivers last week, the message couldn’t have been any clearer. As coach Joel Quenneville said on Saturday, the Blackhawks need him. If he’s anything like he was in 2013, from the physical game to adding a few goals here and there, he can become another threat in the lineup. Quenneville said he liked Bickell’s response in Saturday’s preseason finale, which came a few hours after he cleared waivers. Bickell needs to keep having that response all season.
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
4. Will Artem Anisimov be the second-line center the Blackhawks are looking for? Considering the Blackhawks gave Anisimov a contract extension not long after he was acquired this summer, he better be. Anisimov showed good chemistry with Patrick Kane and Panarin in the final preseason game; Quenneville already said there could be something to that line. Anisimov will be like other news players here, adjusting to the Blackhawks’ system as he goes. But he gives the Blackhawks a strong and big – another thing they’ve been missing there – option at second-line center.
5. How will the defensive changes fare? As of now, the Blackhawks’ seven defensemen will be Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Daley, Trevor van Riemsdyk, David Rundblad and Ville Pokka. How they’re paired is uncertain, although Keith and van Riemsdyk played some during the preseason, as did Seabrook and Daley. How much shuffling will Quenneville do, considering the changes back there this season? Pokka was recalled on Tuesday; does he get into a few games? The Blackhawks’ biggest questions are here to start the season. We all know what Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson can do when pressed into extra service – please see the final two rounds of the 2015 playoffs. But over 82 games, the Blackhawks will need reliable play throughout their defensive corps. Stay tuned.