Blackhawks

Blackhawks mailbag: Why did the Blackhawks give up on Henri Jokiharju so fast?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Why did the Blackhawks give up on Henri Jokiharju so fast?

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer 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. 

Why did we gave up on Henri so fast?

The question isn’t why did the Blackhawks give up on Henri Jokiharju so fast? It’s why did they sell him without receiving an immediate impact-type player in return, whether that came in the form of a package or not?

The Blackhawks were always going to use their surplus of defensemen prospects as trade ammo to patch up a need elsewhere. Alex Nylander could turn into a fine player, but he’s far from a sure thing. It seems like, for whatever reason, he’s struggling to take the next step and the Blackhawks find themselves hoping that he can turn into the player he was supposed to become when he was taken No. 8 overall in 2016.

With moving out Jokiharu does that mean someone like Boqvist or Beaudin is more likely to be ready to step in possibly sometime this season?

The Jokiharju trade certainly opens the door for one of those prospects to emerge from the pack, and we could see a glimpse of them as soon as this season.

After four years in the QMJHL, Beaudin will turn pro and start the season in Rockford if he doesn’t make the Blackhawks out of training camp. And according to our friend Scott Powers of The Athletic, it’s looking more like Boqvist might turn pro also after one year in the OHL.

If that’s the case, both of those prospects will be readily available for a call-up at any point. Beaudin is likely still a year away. Boqvist is the interesting one because he turned heads at training camp last season and gave the Blackhawks something to think about when they were trimming their 23-man roster.

If Boqvist excels in the AHL and the Blackhawks have a spot for him, the former No. 8 overall pick in 2018 is only a phone call away from a call-up and that could be tempting if an offensive jolt from the backend is needed.

Does the arrival of Nylander hinder the potential chance of Dach making the roster out of camp?

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The Blackhawks aren’t going to keep Kirby Dach off the roster because the math squeezes him out. If he does his part to force the management group into keeping him on the team, the Blackhawks will figure out how to shuffle the cards later.

But the Nylander acquisition does add to the competition up front in general and Dach figures to be part of that mix. The challenging part is that you have to think Dach is battling for a top-nine spot. The Blackhawks won't keep him on the roster all season because he's the 11th- or 12th-best forward. They'd want him playing decent minutes in the NHL, and if he's not doing that, they'll send him back to the WHL to do it.

The ‘Hawks currently have 10 forwards (excluding Perlini) locked into a roster spot. Kubalik & Sikura are expected to round out the forwards, but who else do you think has a strong chance to make the team? Nylander? Saarela? Wedin? Quenneville? Looks less likely for Dach.

Good question, and something we’ve been writing and talking about on the Blackhawks Talk Podcast for the past several weeks. The Blackhawks like having internal competition and continue to note that you need to be 14, 15, 16 forwards deep to be successful in today's NHL.

But the reality is, the extra forwards in this scenario should be taking steps forward in helping the team right now and not serving as 13th forwards. You have to think Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Sikura will be on the Opening Day roster, but that doesn't seem like a given as of right now. The fact that Nylander could play left wing or right wing helps his case. Anton Wedin is an intriguing candidate. John Quenneville will definitely get a look. Where does Brendan Perlini factor into the plans?

It's too early to tell because it still feels like there could be some more tweaks coming between now and training camp.

Who do you see taking the first line LW position and the second line RW position for the majority of the year?

In Tuesday's conference call explaining the Alex Nylander-Henri Jokiharju trade, GM Stan Bowman hinted that the Blackhawks are likely to start the season with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the first line and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome on the second. And the question is who’s going to play left wing on the first and right wing on the second.

Andrew Shaw sticks out as somebody who could get an immediate look. Brandon Saad finished the season on the third line and was effective in that role but maybe he gets another shot also. Of course, Drake Caggiula worked so well with Kane and Toews but he’s probably better suited in a bottom-six role.

If Nylander makes the team out of training camp, he could be the wildcard. He's the kind of player who should play in the top-six with other offensively-skilled players to maximize his talent but he hasn't earned that opportunity yet. Kubalik, however, has after his breakout season offensively in the Swiss league and at the international level. And like they did with Dominik Kahun last season, the Blackhawks could look to put him in the best possible position to succeed off the bat.

If we're projecting right now, I could see these combos as the first two lines to open camp: Kubalik-Toews-Kane and DeBrincat-Strome-Shaw. 

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How a systematic change could serve as turning point for Blackhawks

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USA Today

How a systematic change could serve as turning point for Blackhawks

When Jeremy Colliton took over as head coach on Nov. 6, 2018, he implemented a man-on-man system in the defensive zone that took some time getting used to for the core players who had played zone coverage under Joel Quenneville for 10-plus years. 

What Colliton didn’t mess with too much is how the Blackhawks generated offense. He allowed his players to play a run-and-gun-type game and it was high risk, high reward. After all, the Blackhawks were among the league leaders in scoring chances generated off the rush, but they also gave up the most.

Colliton knew that wasn’t a great formula for long-term success, so the Blackhawks became more of a dump-and-chase team this season to eliminate neutral zone turnovers and odd-man rushes against. They also altered the way they transitioned out of their own end.

The problem? The offense dried up significantly.

After a brutal four-game road trip in which they were outshot by 65 and averaged only 26.2 shots per game, Colliton was forced to make a systematic change going into Thursday's game against the Vancouver Canucks and gave his players more freedom to create offense similar to the way they did last season. And it could be the turning point of the 2019-20 season. 

“We made a conscious effort to be a bit looser when the puck turned over, so we could create more out of D zone in transition and I think it's helped,” Colliton said following Sunday’s 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. “There's been a lot more plays available for us. Probably closer to how it looked last year, as far as our ability to make plays out of D-zone and through the neutral zone, and probably fits our top guys — and you can see, they're coming to life. It's good to see. Doesn't mean that the defensive side won't be a continued emphasis, because you've got to keep the puck out of your net to win, and when you get up like we did, would've loved to control the game.”

The results? The Blackhawks have scored 12 goals in their last three games and are 2-0-1 over that span.

“We’re trying to build some momentum here doing a lot of new things and new systems," Dylan Strome said on WGN Radio's postgame show after a 5-1 win over Vancouver. "It takes a little bit of getting used to. We kind of went back to our old system a little bit from last year, so [we felt] a lot more comfortable.”

Not only has the switch jumpstarted the offense, but the Blackhawks have seen improvement in their defensive numbers and it likely stems from the fact they aren’t spending as much time in their own zone.

Before the change on Thursday, the Blackhawks ranked 18th in scoring chances for (24.7), 18th in high-danger chances for (10.0), 30th in scoring chances against (29.2) and 30th in high-danger chances against (13.0) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Since the change, the Blackhawks rank seventh in scoring chances for (28.8), 15th in high-danger chances for (10.9), 22nd in scoring chances against (28.3) and 20th in high-danger chances against (11.8) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. 

It's still not perfect, but we're finally starting to see what the Blackhawks are capable of as a group. They're playing looser and with more confidence, they're attacking and not chasing — they've scored the first two goals in each of the past three games — and they're racking up points because of it. 

The fundamental change doesn’t mean the Blackhawks are going to forget about the defense-first mentality they’re trying to establish. But Colliton knows he has to let his offensive players do what they do best and play to their strengths — it's no coincidence that Patrick Kane has caught fire in the last three games.

Now they’re trying to find a common ground where the team’s style of play can lead to sustained success, both on offense and defense.

“It's a happy medium,” Colliton said. “It was a big emphasis to keep the puck out of our net and still is. But at the same time, we've got to score more than them in order to win. We're trying to find the right balance and I think ultimately we need to win games to stay in the race, to allow ourselves to play important games. That's what we've done in the last week, we've got some points.”

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How to watch Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights: Time, TV schedule and streaming info

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USA Today

How to watch Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights: Time, TV schedule and streaming info

The Blackhawks are in the spotlight on Wednesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights are contending in the Pacific Division while the Blackhawks are hoping to make a run before Thanksgiving to solidify their position in the table.

But last Thursday, the Blackhawks knocked off another Pacific Division foe, the Vancouver Canucks.

With everyone tuned in on Wednesday night, the Blackhawks can show the league they're ready to make a run.

Here's how you can watch and stream the game:

Date: Wednesday, November 13
Time: 9:00 p.m. CST
Location: T-Mobile Arena | Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: NBC Sports
Stream: MyTeams

NBC Sports Chicago Coverage

Blackhawks Pregame: 8:30 p.m. CST
Blackhawks Postgame Live: 11:30 p.m. CST*

* - Immediately following conclusion of the game

Can't watch this game because your provider dropped NBC Sports Chicago?  Go to MYSPORTSCHICAGO.COM or Call 1-844-700-NBCS to get your Chicago sports back!