Despite concerns, Blackhawks doing well through first quarter

Despite concerns, Blackhawks doing well through first quarter

The Blackhawks played their 23rd game on Saturday night, a 2-1 overtime loss the Los Angeles Kings.

The game was a microcosm of the season: getting outplayed early, struggling with special teams (this time the power play), with a great goaltending performance giving them the chance at points. But coach Joel Quenneville says the Blackhawks are heading in the right direction.

“I think it’s progressed here,” he said of the team’s identity. “I think it’s been better as far as how we played defensively. We’re getting a little more predictable in some areas without the puck. I still think we can be better with it. That’s the area where we have room for growth.”

The Circus Trip (3-3-1) usually gives the Blackhawks a good idea of where they are at this point but we’re going to look at the whole picture thus far. So as the Blackhawks head back to Chicago, here is a breakdown on how they are looking a quarter into the season.

What’s been good: Goaltending. When the Blackhawks have struggled in various aspects of their game, Corey Crawford or Scott Darling have given them the chance to collect points. Darling was the latest to help in this department, recording a 27-stop outing to end the Circus Trip on a semi-positive note. Crawford’s record of 10-6-2 includes a 7-0-2 streak from Oct. 24 to Nov. 13. He recorded two shutouts during that run.

What’s been underwhelming: the penalty kill. The usual stuff wasn’t working for the Blackhawks when they started the season. The kill was dreadful, allowing 15 goals through the Blackhawks’ first eight games. It improved after that, although it’s still showing off nights – please see Edmonton, when it was just 2 for 4. The Blackhawks will not end this season with glowing penalty kill numbers; their awful start insures that. But going forward it has to be a lot more reliable.

Who has been hot: Marian Hossa. Remember when we all thought Hossa’s best days were behind him? Well, we were wrong. Very, very wrong. Credit the long offseason for most of it – and getting that 500th career goal put him at ease, too – but Hossa is having a renaissance season. He was at his best as part of the Blackhawks’ second line with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov, but his strength on the puck and his defensive game have never wavered. Through 22 games Hossa has 11 goals. He had 13 all of last season.

Who has not: Jonathan Toews. Offensively, the captain has been frustrated. He had four goals in a five-game stretch in late October/early November but has no goals since Nov. 6. Reunited with Hossa in San Jose, Toews said he had to mimic the veteran: “I think you look at the way Hoss has been playing, he’s been so strong on the puck, keeping plays alive. I think for myself, if I wanted to get more chances and create more offense, I’ve got to do much of the same. I have to be harder on the puck.” On the flip side, you realize how valuable Toews is when he’s out of the lineup. He’s by far the Blackhawks’ best faceoff man. The lines were very altered in his absence. Toews does plenty but there’s no doubt he needs to start producing again.

What’s been surprising: The Blackhawks’ overall record. Despite the ups and downs, slow starts and dependence on comebacks, the Blackhawks are doing damn well in the standings. They finished the Circus Trip not just atop the Central Division, but also the Western Conference with 31 points. Again, goaltending gets a big pat on the back through this first quarter of the season. So did a heavy early home schedule; the Blackhawks are currently 8-1-2 at the United Center. But good teams find ways to win, or at least get a point, and the Blackhawks are still doing that.

NHL Draft Profile: D Adam Boqvist

NHL Draft Profile: D Adam Boqvist

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

Adam Boqvist

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 168 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Boqvist is a finesse defenseman who is very skilled, possesses excellent vision and tons of talent. He is fun to watch and full of surprises on the ice. He often plays bigger than his size and skated in his first games with Sweden's Senior National Team in April."

NHL player comparable: Erik Karlsson

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would love to have Karlsson, who is probably being traded out of Ottawa this summer. Every team would love to have him. But that's not realistic for Chicago. So what if they drafted his potential mini me?

Boqvist is electric with the puck and has drawn comparisons to the Swedish defenseman as a best-case scenario.

There are two concerns, though. One is that he may need some time to develop at just 17 years old and his defense a work in progress. The second is that he's sustained head injuries over the course of his young career, which adds a little bit of risk to the equation.

If he can stay healthy and his development isn't rushed, there's major upside here. But are the Blackhawks willing to be patient? We're not so sure.

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?


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.