Blackhawks

Blackhawks showing why trading Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad was necessary

Blackhawks showing why trading Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad was necessary

The Artemi Panarin video tribute rolled during the first period on Saturday, the United Center crowd cheering and Panarin acknowledging the applause. It was a strong appreciation and understandably so; in two seasons here Panarin was outstanding, the Russian equal to line mate Patrick Kane in skill and creativity.

On the other bench was Brandon Saad, whom the Blackhawks reacquired in exchange for Panarin in late June. It was a surprise move – and to the two players involved. The Blackhawks loved Panarin, but they loved and needed Saad, whose power game was a notable absence the past two seasons.

There’s nothing wrong with missing Panarin. He put up impressive numbers with the Blackhawks and started his Columbus career off well with a three-assist night on Friday against the New York Islanders. But the Blackhawks kept him off the scoresheet on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Saad’s presence has been felt in two consecutive games, from his hat trick on Thursday to his two-point night (game-winning goal, assist) on Saturday. When camp opened Saad said it could take some time for he, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik to gel. It really hasn’t. The top line, which combined for five points on Saturday, has become the top line again.

“His quickness is what’s been very noticeable: quick to pucks, quick to beating the guy to the net,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Saad. “That line was excellent again tonight. They all do a little something different but they’re all big, all can move and Saader sniffing out a loose puck right off the bat got us off to a good start.”

As Quenneville mentioned over the summer, finding line mates for Kane has rarely been a problem; no matter who Kane’s lined up with the points have usually come. There’s already been evidence of that, given Kane’s five points in two games. He’s found success with Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman – and played some Artem Anisimov on Saturday after Schmaltz left with an upper-body injury. Kane talked on Saturday morning about missing Panarin but his ability to adjust to new line mates – and he did it plenty prior to the last two seasons – has made Panarin’s absence easier.

The reception Panarin got on Saturday was rousing and justifiably so. For two seasons Panarin showed the “wow” factor, as Quenneville often referred to it. Sure, it’d be great if they could both be on the same team but that pesky salary cap just won’t allow it. The Blackhawks loved Panarin. But they needed Saad.

“[Saad’s] probably added, whether it’s confidence or the ability to get his stick on pucks around the net, it seems really high-end right now. Great start for him,” Patrick Kane said. “We were saying he’s not a Man-Child anymore. He’s just a man.”

NHL Draft 2020: Blackhawks could pick one of these ranked prospects

NHL Draft 2020: Blackhawks could pick one of these ranked prospects

NHL Central Scouting released their 2020 draft rankings on Wednesday afternoon. The Blackhawks, who sat in 12th place in the Western Conference and 23rd in the league with a 32-30-8 record at the time of the NHL pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, are likely to get a top-10 pick for the third consecutive year.

The team had an 8.2% chance of landing a top-3 pick after finishing the 2018-19 season 10th place in the Western Conference and 20th in the NHL, but they got the No. 3 pick in the lottery and selected center Kirby Dach at last year's draft.

In 2018 they drafted defenseman Adam Boqvist at No. 8 overall. 

One left wing, one right wing, four centers and four defenseman make up the top-10 North American ranked players from Central Scouting available in this year's draft. 

Chicago could use a defensive-minded defenseman as it stands. The Blackhawks are loaded on centers enough to possibly part with Dylan Strome after the season concludes.

Alexis Lafreniere, a left winger, was ranked No. 1 per Central Scouting. The 18-year-old Quebec native led the QMJHL in assists (77) and points (112). It would be a bit of a long shot for the Hawks to land him.

The Blackhawks will probably have better odds than last year in the lottery, but would be more likely to pick around 10th. 

18-year-old Jamie Drysdale is the top North American defensive prospect according to the release at No. 3. The Toronto native, currently with the Eerie Otters of the OHL (Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome's former team) was a member of Team Canada's gold-medal winning entry at the 2020 World Junior Championship. Listed at 5'11, 170 lbs., the Hockey News described his skating and smarts as "other-worldly". Seeing as Chicago has plenty of puck-moving D men who can skate, it may be best to go the stay-at-home route.

At age 17, Jake Sanderson of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s Under-18 Team seems to be the highest ranked D man with a strong defensive game at No. 4 for North Americans on the list. According to the Hockey Writers, the Montana native has strong skating and sound footwork. He'll most likely be out of reach for the Hawks.

Sanderson's father, Geoff, played 1104 NHL games and finished his career with 700 points, playing for teams like the Hartford Whalers and Buffalo Sabres. 

Going off of Central Scouting's rankings, 18-year-old Braden Schneider makes the most sense for the Hawks. They have a better chance to grab him than the other D men, as he's ranked No. 9 among North American players, and the Hockey Writers described him as a "quintessential two-way defenseman" whose strengths include his "stick play, gap control and defensive poise."

Schneider had seven goals and 35 assists in 60 games with the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings this season and a +/- rating of +9. Chicago would gladly select a defenseman who can do it all, especially if that includes helping keep pucks out of the net.

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NHL 20 sim: Penalty kill dooms Blackhawks in Game 1 loss vs. Blues

NHL 20 sim: Penalty kill dooms Blackhawks in Game 1 loss vs. Blues

After surging into the postseason with two big wins in New York to earn the second wild-card spot, the rejuvenated Blackhawks head into a first round showdown with the rival Blues, who swept Chicago in the regular season series. Youth and defense fueled the Blackhawks in the last two games, which saw the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander play big roles in earning a playoff bid.

As the Hawks head into Game 1, they’ll look for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to return to the scoresheet like they have so many times in past playoffs. St. Louis comes into the series on a roll, one they’ve practically been on since midseason last year. Not much is expected league-wide from the Hawks in this series. Can they shock the world and make some noise against their biggest rival?

Game 1: Blackhawks at Blues (April 8)

Result: Blues win 6-4 (STL leads 1-0)

Three Stars:

First Star: Ryan O’Reilly (2 G, 4 SOG)

Second Star: Vince Dunn (3 A, 1 SOG, 1 H, +1)

Third Star: Alex DeBrincat (2 G, 5 SOG)

DeBrincat was the star for the Hawks, netting two goals and getting five shots on net. O’Reilly starred for the Blues, single-handedly bringing them back from a 4-2 deficit with a pair of goals, including a momentum-shifting goal late in the second period. That woke up the crowd and the team as the Blues added three more unanswered goals in the third.

Scoring summary:

First period

8:16 Alexander Steen (O. Sundqvist, V. Dunn) 1-0  
   
11:49 Alex DeBrincat (D. Keith) 1-1

12:55 Alex DeBrincat (J. Toews, O. Maatta) 2-1

13:41 PP Robert Thomas (Z. Sanford, C. Parayko) 2-2

Second period

7:31 Dominik Kubalik (S. Koekkoek) 3-2

14:00 Patrick Kane (D. Strome) 4-2

18:34 R. O’Reilly (J. Schwartz, V. Dunn) 4-3

Third period

9:45 Ryan O’Reilly (C. Gunnarsson) 4-4

19:07 PP Brayden Schenn (C. Parayko, V. Dunn)

19:51 EN Jordan Kyrou (Unassisted)

Box score:

Shots on goal
   
Chicago: 30

St. Louis: 30

The Blackhawks kept up with the Blues the whole way, going shot-for-shot all 60 minutes. The turning point was O’Reilly’s late goal, which sparked the favored-Blues and their crowd. The Hawks gave up a few more shots on goal compared t the past two games, but taking four penalties played a hand in that. Their familiar names were back on the scoresheet, but unfortunately the defense fell back into old habits and couldn’t contain the Blues surge.

Goalies:

Corey Crawford: 24/29 (.828 SV%)

Jordan Binnington: 26/30 (.867 SV%)

For the Blackhawks to make a run, perhaps the most important is Crawford's play. He wasn’t at his best in Game 1, and thus finished with a 6-4 loss. Part of the issue was rebound control, which led to the Blues coming back to tie things up, but the defense didn’t do much to help. The penalty kill also left him hanging high and dry, especially on the game-winner, with Schenn cashing in wide open.

Power play:

Chicago: 0-0

St. Louis 3-4

No doubt Jeremy Colliton and company aren’t thrilled about getting zero power plays in Game 1, and they’ll certainly be in officials’ ears to try and change that. However, the real killer here was the penalty kill. After the Blackhawks' PK stepped up down the stretch, they collapsed in Game 1, allowing three goals on four chances. Special teams success was arguably the biggest factor down the stretch for the Hawks, and they need it to return to form to have any chance against St. Louis in this series.

Notable Blackhawks performances:

Patrick Kane (Goal)

Dominik Kubalik (Goal)

Duncan Keith (Assist)

The Blackhawks saw their familiar names return to the scoresheet, with regular season goal leaders Kane and Kubalik each notching a goal. Toews assisted on one of DeBrincat’s tallies. Keith assisted on another. But the youth movement came to a bit of a halt in Game 1.

After playing big roles to close out the regular season, Dach, Strome, Boqvist and Nylander combined for just one assist. The Hawks will need their young role players to play a bigger role again to provide the depth needed to get by the Blues.

Game 1 of the playoffs looked much more like the first 70 regular season games than the last 12 for the Hawks. Chicago’s offense wasn’t able to bail out their defensive deficiencies like it did much of the season. It’s only one game, and a win in Game 2 would give the Hawks all the momentum as the series shifts to Chicago.

In order to send the series home tied 1-1, the Blackhawks will need better play across the board. Look for a bounce-back performance after a tough loss.