Blackhawks

How Blackhawks are taking a page out of Capitals book in new-look power play scheme

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USA TODAY

How Blackhawks are taking a page out of Capitals book in new-look power play scheme

The Blackhawks haven't really been known to be a strong power-play team under Joel Quenneville. During their three Stanley Cup runs, they finished 16th (2010), 19th (2013) and 20th (2015) and often relied more on their 5-on-5 and penalty kill success.

But last season was a disaster with the man advantage in many ways, tied for third-worst with a 16.0 percent success rate. Something needed to change over the summer, whether it was schematically or personnel wise.

The Blackhawks showed on Monday that they have done both. And it looked awfully similar to the structure the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals ran that was so successful in the playoffs: a top-heavy first unit that consists of four forwards and one defenseman with a 1-3-1 setup.

Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith made up the first unit. Victor Ejdsell, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Saad, Dylan Sikura and Erik Gustafsson made up the second.

But let's focus on the first unit and the technical changes.

Here's a general idea of what the Blackhawks power play setup looked like last season: 

As you can see, it's very spread out, essentially using the perimeter to create and cycle the puck. The advantage to this particular setup is the ability to have freedom in the offensive zone. The disadvantage is the lack of structure because you're basically just looking for openings. And trying to find that perfect pass or shot is something the Blackhawks did far too often last year.

"I think just not shooting enough, trying to be too cute, looking for that perfect play," Schmaltz said on what went wrong with the power play in 2017-18. "I think if you get that first shot then you retrieve it you can kind of make sure to get those second and third pucks and that's when they really tire out and then that's where those seam plays develop."

A lot of the times, it was Kane or bust. While your best offensive player should certainly have the puck and drive the possession, it's not the best team recipe for success when you're depending so heavily on one player. 

"Any time you have Kaner with the puck he's going to make things happen," said Kunitz, who was a part of several top-ranked power plays with Pittsburgh playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. "But I don't think you can just rely on him to do it for everybody else. There's guys out there with tons of skill and they've shown that's why they're out in those first units to be able to go out there and make those plays, so I think it's something that you have to be a threat, everybody on the ice of making the right play and dictating where the puck can move.

"It doesn't always have to move through one guy. And when you do that it opens up some spaces for everybody else. But it's something that you have to be able to take that initiative to want to score goals, go out and do it and when you make those plays it'll open up the ice for everybody else."

To help do that, assistant coach Kevin Dineen unveiled a new 1-3-1 scheme with the biggest change being Schmaltz setting up shop in the slot, where T.J. Oshie found great success in Washington. It allows Schmaltz to be a hub in the middle of the zone, where he can pass it to four different players while also using his quick release to uncork a snapshot.

How many times did we see this play work for the Capitals last season?

Oshie and Alex Ovechkin finished with six power-play goals last postseason, which led all players. The Capitals as a team ranked seventh in the regular season (22.5 percent) and second in the playoffs, converting on 22 of 75 attempts for a conversation rate of 29.3 percent. Those two were crucial to the success.

Perhaps the thought to put DeBrincat on the left side is that it puts his deceptive shot to good use and, like Ovechkin, keeps penalty killers thinking by not giving him a clear path to tee off a slap shot from the faceoff circle, which could open up something else.

With Schmaltz playing the role of Oshie and DeBrincat playing the role of Ovechkin, that leaves Kane and Toews on the other side to play off each other like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov (as seen in the GIF above) and allows Keith to play the role of John Carlson at the point. Not bad.

With an emphasis being put more on special teams success, particularly the power play, perhaps the Blackhawks will see more production in all areas if they're successful in the one they struggled in the most last season.

"It's the first day we practiced it, so it's just one day at a time here," Keith said. "I think try to turn the page, just focus on this year and not worry about last year and what happened. A lot of time's power play is about confidence too, 5-on-5, anything, individual players, your confidence is a major factor. It's a new year, let's have fun, move it around and make some plays."

All-Time best Chicago Blackhawks players by jersey numbers

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USA Today

All-Time best Chicago Blackhawks players by jersey numbers

The Blackhawks sweater is one of the most recognizable in all of sports, let alone hockey.

But who have been the best players to don the Indian Head for each number?

The Blackhawks have retired six numbers (although it's for seven players since Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote doubled up), so those are easy. But what about some of the deeper cuts? Can you name a great No. 23 off the top of your head? No, M.J. doesn't count even though he played in the United Center too...

Here are our picks for the best Blackhawks players, by jersey number.

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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