Blackhawks

Five questions as the Blackhawks near the All-Star break

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Five questions as the Blackhawks near the All-Star break

MIAMI – The Blackhawks would probably like to forget about their latest trip, an 0-for-2 outing against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, respectively. Their game went from so-so to worse over those back-to-back nights.

But in what’s proven to be a very successful midseason stretch for the Blackhawks, consider it a blip on the radar. It’s been a busy run for the Blackhawks but they’ll right the ship. Hey, nothing like a game against the St. Louis Blues to shake those mid-season blahs, right?

So with the Blackhawks facing two more games before a much-needed All-Star break, let’s look at Five Questions for now and the immediate future.

1. Should Corey Crawford start being included in Vezina Trophy talk? Crawford had a hiccup in November but he’s otherwise been stellar this season. He’s been great especially of late, accumulating a career-high nine-game winning streak that the Lightning snapped on Thursday night. Crawford still leads the NHL with six shutouts this season. He’s also second in victories (27) and fourth in save percentage (.931). There have been a few Blackhawks games this season that could be called “goalie wins” thanks to Crawford. Washington’s Braden Holtby and Florida’s Roberto Luongo have been part of the Vezina discussion quite a bit this season, and deservedly so. Crawford should be added to it.

2. Is it so bad a bunch of Blackhawks aren’t going to the All-Star game? Crawford figures prominently in this topic, too, considering his numbers. As Duncan Keith said earlier this season, it’s always nice when players are recognized for their accomplishments. At the same time the Blackhawks are starting to look gassed. They’ve been playing a lot of hockey – when the break begins the Blackhawks will have played 53 games – from Crawford on out. Last year’s game was a snooze-fest and even with the game’s alterations this year, these guys will still be going through the motions. So instead of five Blackhawks going to the All-Star game a majority of the team gets a well-earned rest. They need that more than a "yay-us" weekend.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Where does Jiri Sekac fit into the Blackhawks’ lineup? Yesterday the newest of the Blackhawks played on the team’s fourth line. Maybe he stays there a bit to get ingrained into the system but is there a potential for more? Sekac is in his early 20s and is on a one-year deal, two reasons why the Blackhawks acquired him from the Ducks in exchange for Ryan Garbutt. But Sekac is also a guy looking to latch on with a team after jumping around a few times since 2014. Could he work his way up? If the top line falters with Andrew Shaw at some point, does Sekac become the latest to get an opportunity there? We’ll see how it shakes out.

4. Can the Blackhawks ward off the Central Division competition? They’re back on top in the division, so they’ll be targeted even more than usual. But does it matter if the Blackhawks win the division title? Hardly. We’ve all seen this movie before, folks: the Blackhawks don’t need to be atop the division; they just need to get in. They need to be playing their best hockey as the playoffs approach. If they take the title, fine, but they have bigger prizes in mind. Keep as good a pace as possible and save the best for the end.

5. Will the Blackhawks have the appropriate amount of gas in the tank on Sunday? It’s St. Louis. They hate the Blues, the Blues hate them and these two never disappoint when they square off. The Blackhawks will also be home again – albeit for a short time – where they’ve excelled this season. They’ll find the energy for this one.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

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

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 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: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

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

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Wahlstrom already has an NHL-caliber shot with a quick release and the ability to create space for himself and linemates. He's most known for his goal-scoring ability and elite shot, and can hit a one-timer as good or better than many professional players."

NHL player comparable: Phil Kessel

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would probably prefer to take a defenseman at No. 8, but because four of them might go inside the Top 7, the best available player on the board is likely to be a forward. And there's a decent chance that could be Wahlstrom.

Wahlstrom would immediately become Chicago's top prospect, and a player that has the potential to slide into the top six when he reaches the NHL — whenever that may be.

He's committed to college for the 2018-19 season, so it's doubtful he would join the team until at least 2019-20, but Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said in our draft preview edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast that it wouldn't deter them from picking him. 

And it shouldn't, because you don't want to waste a player of his caliber's entry-level years developing in the minors if he's not ready yet.

"I think the way we would evaluate it is, we project them, we try to get a timeline on when we think they might be NHL ready," Kelley said. "But we're also looking for where they are in their development curve and want their ceiling is. I think in some players, you have to be a little bit more patient for them to reach their ceiling. That doesn't necessarily mean that players can't exceed their development curve, I think we saw that with Alex DeBrincat last year."