Blackhawks

What if Blackhawks get No. 1 pick and select Alexis Lafrenière?

What if Blackhawks get No. 1 pick and select Alexis Lafrenière?

The Blackhawks received a gift when it was announced they'd be included in the NHL's 24-team playoff format under the Return To Play plan.

They're set to play the Oilers in a best-of-5 play-in series after being 12th in the Western Conference and six points out of a playoff spot with four teams to jump and 12 games remaining at the time of the NHL pause on March 12.

They received more good fortune on Friday during Phase 1 of the NHL's Draft Lottery when it was announced the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 NHL Draft will go to one of the eight teams that loses in the qualifying round of this year's potential playoffs during Phase 2 of the Draft Lottery. Meaning, if the Hawks lose their series with the Oilers, they have a 12.5 percent chance of walking away with the top pick.

If the season or the playoffs don't conclude, the Hawks would have a 12.5 percent chance at the top pick as one of the bottom four teams in the Western Conference.

Phase 2 is slated to be conducted at some point between the qualifying round and the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The No. 1 pick of this year's draft is expected to be forward Alexis Lafrenière, who registered 35 goals and 77 assists for a league-leading 112 points in 52 games this season with the Rimouski Océanic of the QMJHL, where he also served as the team captain. 

Listed at 6'1, 192 lbs., Lafrenière will not only bring offense wherever he goes, but a little bit of size.

According to The Athletic's Corey Pronman, the left winger "attacks the net, has some physicality in his game and gets a lot of goals in the dirty areas." 

Pronman also believes the already highly-coveted forward, who shoots left, makes up for his "average" speed with skill, smarts and vision.

Let's say the Hawks lose to the Oilers, luck out again and land the 18-year-old Saint-Eustache, Quebec native. We saw the Blackhawks strike gold in last year's draft when they had an 8.2 percent chance of getting a Top 3 pick and moved up nine spots to select center Kirby Dach third overall.

So, for fun's sake, let's fast forward and envision the Hawks ending up with the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 draft. (Obviously, it would also be fun to see a great series with the Oilers and Chicago advance, but seriously, what if they get the No. 1 pick??)

When it comes to his road to the NHL, Lafrenière should be instantly ready for the show. It's incredibly doubtful the Blackhawks would pass on his skill and ability to score from tough areas if they possessed the top pick. Those assets would give the Hawks several options next season.

Even with an impressive training camp, it may be safe to assume Chicago head coach Jeremy Colliton would ease Lafrenière in on the team's third line, the way he did with Dach for a majority of this season.

As with a lot of forward personnel on the Blackhawks, who's around the potential No. 1 pick in the lineup could be dictated by where Patrick Kane is penciled in.

If we see a nuclear line with Saad-Toews-Kane and Andrew Shaw is healthy from his latest concussion, the forward groups could look like this:

Saad-Toews-Kane
DeBrincat-Strome-Shaw
Lafrenière-Dach-Kubalik
Caggiula-Carpenter-Nylander

Note: Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik and Drake Caggiula all become restricted free agents after this season. It's doubtful the Hawks let Kubalik, who scored 30 goals as a rookie, walk away. Caggiula's grit and the goals that come with it should be somewhat affordable. 

Strome's future is a bit more uncertain with his sophomore season in Chicago lagging a bit compared to his first one, partially due to injuries. If the team does part ways with Strome after this year, Dach may be trusted to be the new No. 2 center in his second NHL season.

If Kane is placed on Chicago's second line, Kubalik will probably go up top, where he saw a lot of success next to the Blackhawks' captain as a rookie:

Saad-Toews-Kubalik
DeBrincat-Strome-Kane
Lafrenière-Dach-Shaw
Caggiula-Carpenter-Nylander

Like we saw at times with Dach earlier this season, it's possible Colliton could also either give Lafrenière a look among the team's top six forwards on the first or second line or reward him for playing well with some minutes there.

In the land of Make Believe, anything is possible.

Training camps for teams leading up to the NHL's 24-team playoff format are still being targeted for July 10. The series against the Oilers could prove to be an entertaining one and with the layover plus Chicago's mix of vets and young players, they've got a shot. So don't schedule your draft parties yet.

We'll see how things play out in a matter of time. 

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Blackhawks preparing for a more desperate Oilers team in Game 2

Blackhawks preparing for a more desperate Oilers team in Game 2

No one expected to be talking about a desperate Edmonton Oilers team — the home ice squad and No. 5 seed in the Western Conference with the league's top two leaders in points during the regular season — trying to keep the No. 12 seed Blackhawks from running away with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers series, but here we are.

It was just one game, but one game is a world of difference in a best-of-five series, which the qualifiers are. A possible Blackhawks' Game 2 victory puts the hometown Oilers in serious trouble.

The Hawks don't expect the Oilers just to be more desperate because of a Game 1 loss, but how Edmonton lost.

Related: Dominik Kubalik and Jonathan Toews lift Blackhawks over Oilers in Game 1

After Oilers captain Connor McDavid scored on a power play 2:34 into the contest, things were looking great for Edmonton and Chicago looked outclassed early on. Then, the Blackhawks scored four-unanswered first-period goals and went on to win 6-4.

"I don’t think it’s ever too soon (to say that)," Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said of the possibility of the Oilers playing more desperately in Game 2 on Monday. "Last game was very important. We understood it was pivotal and now here comes another one. We’d be naïve if we don’t think they’re going to throw everything they have at us. They’re a good team, they’ve had good results all year, have some tremendous top-end weapons and we respect them fully and know we have to play our absolute best to give ourselves a chance to win. That’s how we’re approaching it."

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The win was more lopsided than the score would suggest. After Hawks rookie Dominik Kubalik's first of two second-period power play goals, the Blackhawks chased Oilers goalie Mike Smith out of the game after his fifth allowed goal.

On Monday, Oilers coach Dave Tippett announced Mikko Koskinen would start in net for Edmonton in Game 2.

The Hawks were able to outclass McDavid and Leon Draisaitl's Oilers on Saturday. But Monday is far from a guaranteed W. It's not just a more desperate team the Blackhawks should be facing, but the talent and skill underneath the expected emotion and purpose.

Edmonton's power play looked just like it did during the regular season when it was the best in the league, going 3-for-4 in Game 1 with McDavid and Draisaitl getting a goal apiece on the man advantage. The Hawks matched with three power-play goals out of six attempts in the contest.

Related: How long can Blackhawks experience 'all-time high' morale in postseason?

Chicago's core members have experienced just about everything that can happen in a postseason. They will likely set the tone for the even-keeled mindset needed for Game 2.

"I think there’s a lot of experience in the room, a lot of core guys have been to a lot of playoff runs," Blackhawks defenseman Olli Maatta, who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins before coming to Chicago, said. "They know it’s only Game 1, but we have to feel good about what we’ve done. After every game, win or loss, you have to look at the good things and fix the things you can be better at. We won Game 1, it’s a good start, but this game starts 0-0. It shows how good of a team we are when we play the game the right way. It’s just the way we’ve got to do it every day."

Game 2 between the Hawks and Oilers begins at 9:30 p.m. CT on Monday.

NHL releases COVID-19 test results from first week in bubbles

NHL releases COVID-19 test results from first week in bubbles

On Monday, the NHL announced that after completion of the first week of Phase 4 of the Return To Play program there were zero positive COVID-19 test results between July 27 and August 1.

The league noted a total of 7,013 tests were administered to team staff and players making up each organization's 52-member traveling parties in hub cities Edmonton and Toronto. The tests were conducted daily.

Phase 4 began when clubs entered the hub cities on July 26 for the NHL's 24-team postseason.

There were reportedly also zero positive tests before teams left for the hub cities as well.

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