Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Standouts from Blackhawks first preseason win against Red Wings

Four takeaways: Standouts from Blackhawks first preseason win against Red Wings

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 preseason win over the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center on Wednesday:

1. Alex Nylander gets a shot on the top line

After having a goal and an assist in his preseason debut on Monday, Nylander was rewarded by the Blackhawks coaching staff by starting on the first line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. And he certainly didn't look out of place.

The trio logged 14:28 of ice time together at 5-on-5 and generated 18 shots for and only five against, according to Natural Stat Trick. They also teamed up on Duncan Keith's eventual game-winning goal in the second period.

Nylander finished with a secondary assist, three shot attempts (two on goal) and one takeaway in 20:44 of action. He’s going to give the Blackhawks management something to think about.

"I thought he was good," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Again, we're looking for his play without the puck. We know he's going to do a lot with the puck. It's their first time playing together so there's always going to be some kinks you're working out as far as the plays they're making and what not but he had a great net drive on Dunc's goal. Those are the things that people don't notice but opens up ice.

"We want to open up ice for those skill guys he's playing with. I thought he had a couple really good tracks. He was forechecking, he was skating. That's what we're looking for and if he continues to do that then he can be effective at this level no matter who he's playing with."

2. Individual standouts

— Dominik Kubalik was given a top-six role again after his two-goal night in his preseason debut on Tuesday in Detroit. And he was noticeable. He recorded three shot attempts (one on goal) and had a game-high four takeaways in 14:29 of action.

— The Olli Maatta and Brent Seabrook pairing turned in a strong showing together. They were on the ice for 20 shot attempts for and seven against and eight scoring chances for and two against in 13:28 of 5-on-5 ice time.

— Brandon Hagel was named the second star of the game after scoring a goal and tying Keith with a game-high four shots on goal. He also logged 11:58 of ice time and won both of his faceoffs.

— Adam Boqvist showed why he was drafted No. 8 overall in 2018. He's flashy and has elite offensive skill, which you can see in the video below. He also earned some praise from his head coach for his defensive play, which is the part of his game that's going to be a constant work in progress.

3. Penalty kill still ironing out some kinks

The top priority for the Blackhawks this summer was to shore up their defensive issues, and that included the penalty kill. And even though we shouldn't put too much stock into overall team performance and results in the preseason, the Blackhawks have given up at least one power-play goal in each of their first three games.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, these games and stats don't count, but it obviously would be nice to head into the regular season with some positive momentum. Once the Blackhawks start to finalize their 23-man roster we should get a pretty good idea of what the special teams units could look like on Opening Night and beyond, and more chemistry will develop among the everyday players.

4. Roster cuts looming

In the last four days, the Blackhawks hosted their team scrimmage at the United Center and followed that up with three consecutive preseason contests. That was a significant evaluation period for the coaching staff and management.

Colliton said the Blackhawks are expected to make their first wave of roster cuts between now and Saturday, which is when their next preseason tilt is. The 23-man roster should start to take shape in the coming few days.

"We’re going to start," he said. "I don’t know exactly the timeline and how many and which day, but I can tell you it won’t all be in one day. And we’ll sort of work up to the game Saturday and we’ll have a tighter group, and especially for next week."

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Alex DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

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USA TODAY

Alex DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Less than two and a half seasons was all we needed to see from Alex DeBrincat, a highly-skilled and crafty winger for the Blackhawks, who's usually looking to shoot instead of pass. 

DeBrincat was one of the biggest steals from the NHL Draft in recent years. The Hawks taking him in the second round, No. 39 overall, of the 2016 draft changed the way teams selected players.

There's been less hesitation for GMs to pick forwards around DeBrincat's height (5-foot-7) if they're point-producing machines with strong vision and skating. Right out of the gate, the 21-year-old recorded 28 goals for his rookie campaign during the 2017-18 season and followed it up with 41 last year.

"The Cat" has seen a dip in production tallying 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 32 games so far this season, but expect that to pick up.

DeBrincat has utilized his size in being able to sneak by defensemen and find open areas in the offensive zone like the left circle, where he's rifled in a lot of his goals with the Hawks. The Farmington Hills, Mich. native has 151 points (77 goals, 74 assists) in 196 games with Chicago.

He hasn't hoisted the cup or even played one playoff game yet with the Blackhawks, but if/when he does reach the postseason in his career, he'll be a reason why his team got there and will surely be a difference maker.

Alex's chemistry (and interesting friendship) with old Erie Otter (OHL) pal Dylan Strome, as well as with Patrick Kane, amplify the forward's strengths and make him even more fun to watch. 

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Struggling Blackhawks still trying to find a path forward

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AP

Struggling Blackhawks still trying to find a path forward

ST. LOUIS — One year ago today, the Blackhawks were enjoying an off-day after snapping their second eight-game losing streak of the season with a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Adjustments were still being made under new head coach Jeremy Colliton, but there was at least some optimism that light would be at the end of the tunnel once they all got on the same page.

The Blackhawks have an off-day on Friday, but they’re in a much different place this time around. And not in a good way.

After losing for the ninth time in 12 games (3-7-2) and third straight (0-2-1), the Blackhawks are making standings watching irrelevant in Chicago in a year where it shouldn’t be. Their playoff chances are slipping away quicker than an odd-man rush and nobody wants to start looking ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft class because they shouldn’t be in this position again.

The inconsistency issues are real, the injuries continue to mount, the losses are getting uglier and the schedule is only getting tougher. The Blackhawks aren’t just losing hockey games. They’re not even giving themselves a chance. 

In their last six losses, the Blackhawks have been outscored 29-11 for a minus-18 goal differential. They’ve given up at least five goals in four of them and have one regulation win since Nov. 17.

And it’s hard to see how it can get better.

The easiest in-season change to make when a team with playoff expectations is underperforming is to change the voice and message the players are listening to. But the Blackhawks played that card last season.

In 2015-16, the Blackhawks deservedly earned a pass for running out of gas in the first round after coming off a season in which they captured a third Stanley Cup in six years.

In 2016-17, the Blackhawks called being swept in the first round by Nashville as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference a "wake-up call" and promised changes.

In 2017-18, the Blackhawks pointed to Corey Crawford’s season-ending injury in December as a reason for their second-half spiral.

In 2018-19, the Blackhawks preached patience after making a coaching change for the first time in 10 years.

In 2019-20, there is no excuse. The Blackhawks had another long offseason to get it right and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were coming off career statistical seasons at age 30. The roster is better but the product on the ice hasn’t changed.

The tide eventually might turn for the Blackhawks, but right now it's difficult to see a path for how it will.

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