Every time a question has been asked about whether the Blackhawks still have playoff aspirations, players and coaches have responded by saying they're taking it one day at a time. You could tell by their body language, though, that it didn't seem all that realistic to them when the questions were being presented.
Yet here we are, going into Thursday's game against Vancouver with the Blackhawks on a five-game winning streak and chance to pull within one point of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
There are exactly two months left in the regular season and the Blackhawks are playing their best hockey of the year. It's hard not to start standings watching.
"I think if we handle our business, we'll be OK," Patrick Kane said. "Everyone's kind of hovering around that same position. Whoever goes on that run probably finds themselves in a position to be playing in mid-April, so yeah, you'll definitely be watching. You look at the other night, we beat Edmonton, a couple other teams lost for us like Colorado, Vancouver, Arizona, Anaheim, I think Minnesota got one point. You notice those things are going on and when you have a successful night like that, all of a sudden it brings in a little bit more hope."
There's added excitement around the locker room, too. Guys can feel it. The Blackhawks have this newfound optimism that a playoff berth is closer than they ever would have imagined, and are playing a meaningful game at the United Center for the first time in a while.
"There’s no doubt it’s a much better feel, much more fun to be in the room around the guys when we’re winning, when we’re getting results," Jonathan Toews said. "But I think we’ve got to give these guys credit for how we stuck with it, how we’ve kept that mood up even through the tough parts of the season. It’s nice to see it turning into results right now, and that’s getting wins. But we've got to keep working, keep pushing to get better because we know we’re not even close to the ceiling yet."
The Blackhawks don't want to get too far ahead of themselves just yet. They know none of this matters if they don't hold up their end of the bargain.
But at least there's a positive feeling and belief that they've played themselves into the conversation of a race that every team wants to be a part of this time of year.
"Obviously you can’t control the other results, but there’s been a bunch of nights where we’ve gotten some help," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "And we’ve taken care of our part of the equation too. Now it gets a little more fun."
Charlie Roumeliotis answers your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.
Is there any chance we see the Hawks make a trade before the season starts?
Is there any chance we see the Hawk make a trade before the season starts?— Division III Chirps (@Mike20943154) August 22, 2019
The Blackhawks had as active a summer as any team, revamping their roster and filling out their depth through trades and free agency. And because of that, it's going to be an extremely competitive training camp.
While the organization acknowledged that it's important to be 26, 27 players deep throughout the course of an 82-game season, the Blackhawks have a handful of players fighting for the same spot or two: Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, Brendan Perlini, Dylan Sikura and Anton Wedin. Heck, even Kirby Dach.
August is always the dead period around the NHL. But come September, it wouldn't be surprising to see some movement around the league when teams figure out what they have on the ice. Training camp and preseason games are a time for GMs to evaluate who may be getting squeezed out, whether there's a breakout prospect emerging and it's also when the pressure point of having to be compliant with the cap.
The Blackhawks could be one of those teams looking to make a tweak or two before Opening Night, but don't expect anything significant.
Do you think Nylander makes the team this year or does he spend another season in the AHL? If he does makes the team, who do you see him fitting on a line with?
Do you think Nylander makes the team this year or does he spend another season in the AHL? If he does makes the team, who do you see him fitting on a line with?— Brady (@Brayy01) August 22, 2019
Alex Nylander is going to be given a fair shot to make the Blackhawks out of training camp, and it would be a disappointment if he didn’t. He was taken No. 8 overall in 2016 and simply hasn’t taken that next step in his development yet.
Perhaps the situation in Buffalo played a role in that, but it will truly be up to Nylander whether he does unlock his true potential in Chicago. There isn’t a reason for him not to. It’s a much healthier situation and the spotlight isn’t on him.
If Nylander does make the team, expect him to play with offensively-gifted players — guys who can help bring out the best in his abilities and think the game at the same level. But playing with those types of players also means you're drawing top competition on a nightly basis, so he will have to earn it.
Do you think all the additions this summer may be a strategic move to help prepare the Hawks for the expansion draft? (Keeping the prospects off the team till midseason or something so they remain draft protected/ineligible?)
Do you think all the additions this summer may be a strategic move to help prepare the Hawks for the expansion draft? (keeping the prospects off the team till midseason or something so they remain draft protected/ineligible ?)— Travis Miller (@TjMiller024) August 22, 2019
Good question. The summer of 2020 is going to be a fascinating one for the Blackhawks because that's when teams are going to start making some moves ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. And as of right now, the Blackhawks are going to expose a really good player, whether they pick the seven forwards and three defensemen option or the eight skater one.
Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews all have no-movement clauses, so they must be protected (unless the player approves of being exposed, which is highly unlikely). Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are two others who must be protected, so that's six right there. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw are two others who are eligible. Same with Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Connor Murphy. And if Erik Gustafsson signs an extension, he must be protected also.
Again, the list is deep. But to answer your original question, the primary focus this summer was to fill needs across the roster (physicality and defensive-minded players) and doing so through trades was the best possible option because they were able to get guys with term and a reasonable cap hit. Free agency is where the overpayment happens.
The goalie situation for the Blackhawks is one to watch ahead of the 2021 expansion draft.
What are your expectations for the goaltending tandem in Rockford? Delia appears to be the current starter, but Lankinen was really impressive this summer for Finland. Small-ish sample size, but he was phenomenal. Do you think it will end up being an even split at some point?
What are your expectations for the goaltending tandem in Rockford? Delia appears to be the current starter, but Lankinen was really impressive this summer for Finland. Small-ish sample size, but he was phenominal. Do you think it will end up being an even split at some point?— Talkin’ Hawkey (@TalkHawkey) August 22, 2019
Collin Delia may have signed a three-year extension with the Blackhawks, but that doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t want to give Kevin Lankinen a strong look also. Delia has earned the right to be the starter, but the split between he and Lankinen will likely be closer to 50-50 if both goalies are performing.
Lankinen was sensational between the pipes for Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, helping lead his country to a gold medal. But Delia is also taking significant steps in his development and doing so at a rapid pace. It should be a healthy competition in Rockford.
With so much prospect talk focused on Dach, Boqvist, & Delia (and rightfully so) is there a dark horse prospect (I'm talking about that under the radar grinder) fans should keep their eyes on & where are they expected to be playing this year so we can follow?
#Blackhawks With so much prospect talk focused on Dach, Boqvist, & Delia (and rightfully so) is there a dark horse prospect (I'm talking about that under the radar grinder) fans should keep their eyes on & where are they expected to be playing this year so we can follow?— Jason Graves (@TheJasonGraves) August 22, 2019
Two prospects come to mind when discussing potential dark horses: MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev. Both of them will be playing in Rockford this season.
Entwistle and Kurashev took significant steps in their development this past season, with Entwistle playing a key role in the Guelph Storm winning the OHL championship and Kurashev leading the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships in scoring with six goals in seven games.
Entwistle is a player who knows exactly what his role will be in the NHL and has already embraced it: a bottom-six forward, reliable penalty killer and a leader on and off the ice. And that’s something the Blackhawks value about him.
Kurashev is more offensively skilled and has some sneaky upside to be a potential breakout player as a fourth-round pick. Keep an eye on him.
Is it October yet?
Is it October yet?— Zane McGrath (@zanesrag) August 22, 2019
This really has felt like a long summer, hasn’t it? We’re almost there, Zane.
A few checkpoints are coming up on the schedule though that may help speed up the process: Traverse City prospects tournament from Sept. 6-11, training camp festival on Sept. 15 and the first preseason game on Sept. 16. We're getting closer.
NHL draft analyst Steve Kournianos released his list for Top 50 players in NHL pipelines for the upcoming 2019-20 season. To the delight of Blackhawks fans everywhere, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach were ranked at number 10 and 13 respectively.
NHL prospect rankings: Top 50 players in NHL pipelines for 2019-20 https://t.co/C9dneFJerg— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) August 21, 2019
Kournianos described 19-year-old defender Boqvist as a dominant rookie with 40 assists and 20 goals during his tenure with the London Knights. Fans speculate whether the Blackhawks will keep Boqvist on his junior squad for another year or pull him up to play with the American Hockey League Rockford Ice Hogs.
Kournianos said Dach was one of Team Canada’s top players at the World Junior Summer Showcase. The 18-year-old center is sure to be one of Canada’s main forwards during World Juniors and Dach has the flexibility to play anywhere in the Blackhawks lineup. Dach’s entry-level contract allows him up to nine NHL games this season, giving him the chance to return to the AHL or NHL after his junior season in the Western Hockey League is finished.
Both Boqvist and Dach are key player for the future of this team and it will interesting to watch the Hawks develop these younger players.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.