Blackhawks

Central Division roundup: Stars shine bright in October

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Central Division roundup: Stars shine bright in October

The first month of the season is in the books, and it already looks like there will be no breathing room in the Central Division. Let's review how October went for each of the seven teams in the NHL's toughest division.

Chicago: The Blackhawks talked about the importance of getting off to a hot start, especially coming of a short offseason, and a 6-5-0 record isn't a bad one. But in the Central, it's not good enough as they close out October in second-to-last place. The good news is, the Blackhawks started off 6-4-1 in their first 11 games last season and they obviously turned out just fine. The bad news is, 11 of their 13 opponents in November are Western Conference teams and they'll likely have to play all of them without Duncan Keith.

[MORE: Revamped Blackhawks definitely have work to do]

Colorado: The Avalanche picked up right where they left off last season, which is the last thing they wanted to do. Their poor possession numbers haven't changed, even with the addition of puck-moving defenseman Francois Beauchemin. If something doesn't change soon, Patrick Roy's seat could be getting hot. Losing ground may be worse than gaining it in this division.

Dallas: There isn't a hotter team than the Stars, who wrapped up October by winning eight of their last nine games. Ex-Blackhawks Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya are fitting in nicely on their new teams, and even Antti Niemi, who's provided stability in goal. But it's the "stars" Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin leading the way, both of whom hold the top two spots in the NHL's scoring race.

Minnesota: The Wild are getting average goaltending from Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper, but it's not holding them back the way it did last season. At least not yet. That's because they're averaging 3.18 goals per game, a significant leap from the 2.77 they averaged last season. Can they keep up that pace?

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Nashville: If you're looking for a better defensive team than the Predators through the first month, you won't find it. They've picked up at least a point in nine of their first 10 games, and are allowing just 28.1 shots per game, which is a notch better than last year's average. The problem has never been on defense, though; it's getting consistent secondary scoring. So far, so good.

St. Louis: The Blues have been decimated with injuries early on: Paul Stastny is recovering from a broken foot, Kevin Shattenkirk continues to be nagged by a groin injury, Jaden Schwartz will miss the next three months with a fractured ankle and Patrik Berglund has yet to appear in a game after undergoing shoulder surgery in August. But the Blues have done a fantastic job at trying to overcome them, and find themselves battling for the top seed in the West, due in large part to the emergence of Vladimir Tarasenko as an elite player.

Winnipeg: Are the Jets contenders or pretenders? It may take a while before we know the real answer, but wins over the Rangers, Wild and Blackhawks in October is a great start. Blake Wheeler is on fire, and has helped the Jets raise their goals per game average from 2.72 last season to 3.18 through the first month of this season. They're right in the thick of things in the Central. The real question is, can they stay there?

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

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USA TODAY

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

Here's an interesting development as we approach the NHL Draft: Artemi Panarin has informed the Blue Jackets that he's not ready to consider an extension "at this time" and because of that, Columbus is testing the market for the Russian winger, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen responded to the report shortly after in a statement released by the team:

"Artemi is an elite National Hockey League player. Our position has been that we want him to be a Blue Jacket for many years and that has not changed. He has a year left on his contract, so there is plenty of time to work towards that end. Should anything change moving forward, we will address it at that time and any decision we make will be in the best interest of our club.”

Ironically, Panarin was traded to Columbus on the afternoon of last year's draft as part of a blockbuster package that sent Brandon Saad back to Chicago. It shook up the hockey world, and has the potential to do so again.

Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but is free to sign an extension with Columbus on July 1. Clearly, that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now and it's why the Blue Jackets have to put out feelers. They can't risk losing him for nothing.

On the flip side, Panarin has every right to test the open market. He has one year left on his contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. He's due for a hefty raise, will be 27 years old next summer — the prime of his hockey career — and will certainly be looking for a long-term deal after accepting a bridge contract with the Blackhawks.

Speaking of whom, should his former team explore bringing him back to Chicago now that he's on the market?

Every general manager should and will do their due diligence and call for an asking price, Stan Bowman included. Those conversations might start with Alex DeBrincat or Nick Schmaltz, and if that's the case, you say thanks but no thanks and move on. 

The Blackhawks have the Nos. 8 and 27 picks in this year's draft as possible ammunition, but the Blue Jackets are ready to take that next step. They were up 2-0 in their first-round series before losing four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. It's unlikely they'd be looking to center a potential deal around draft picks. 

The only way you even consider it from the Blackhawks perspective is if Panarin is guaranteed to sign a long-term extension at a price you're comfortable with, but that's one of the main reasons why they traded him in the first place. 

To cap it all off, trading for Panarin wouldn't even address the Blackhawks' biggest need and that's a Top 4 defenseman. Those don't grow on trees. The Blackhawks will have the cap space to sign a player like James van Riemsdyk to patch up their top 6. You can't say the same for the free-agent blue line group.

So while it may certainly be fun for Blackhawks fans to come up with possible trade scenarios to get Panarin back in an Indianhead sweater, it just doesn't make great sense for a variety of reasons.

NHL Draft Profile: F Filip Zadina

NHL Draft Profile: F Filip Zadina

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Filip Zadina

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 195 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Marian Hossa

Fit for Blackhawks:

You know who the Blackhawks missed last year? Hossa. It's not mentioned enough when analyzing what went wrong in 2017-18. 

Well, Zadina is a player who's got the upside of Hossa and is one of a few prospects who could potentially crack the NHL lineup this upcoming season. The scouting report above is all you need to know about Zadina's style of play, and Blackhawks fans surely nodded through the whole thing because it's exactly what the team is looking for.

However, this is a case where the Blackhawks would have to trade up to snag him if they want him, because there's little chance he'll be on the board when the eighth pick rolls around. And it's probably unlikely they would do so, given what it may take to move up a few spots.