Five Questions heading into the Blackhawks season


Five Questions heading into the Blackhawks season

Here we are, folks, with another regular season about to begin. The Blackhawks will open this one as they have two others recently, by raising a banner to commemorate another Stanley Cup victory.

But once that banner joins the other five in the rafters, then the Blackhawks get to work. Yes, they’ll have that target on their backs. And no, no bringing up the term “Cup hangover” – well, except for that time right there. But for a team that went through some offseason changes again, there are questions again. So let’s look at Five Questions (or Things, if you’re into continuity) entering the Blackhawks’ season.

1. Is Artemi Panarin the real deal? An upper-body injury denied Panarin most of the preseason, with him getting into that final game on Saturday. Those of us watching, including the Blackhawks, only have the small sample size from which to draw. Still, it looked promising. Panarin is like Teuvo Teravainen the last two years. The talent is there; it’s all about him adjusting to life on and off the (North American) ice. That turned out pretty well for Teravainen, didn’t it?

[MORE HAWKS: Teuvo Teravainen likely to start season at wing]

2. Is Teravainen starting on the wing the right call? Personally, I say it is. Yes, the Blackhawks worked with him at center, and we all know how this goes: he could be back there by next week. But Teravainen is more suited to the wing. The kid has play-making skills, as we all saw during the Stanley Cup Final; he can work from his bag of tricks a lot better at wing than at center. Keep him on the wing as much as possible.

3. Will Bryan Bickell put together the season he needs? The Blackhawks wanted to jolt the left wing. And when they placed him on waivers last week, the message couldn’t have been any clearer. As coach Joel Quenneville said on Saturday, the Blackhawks need him. If he’s anything like he was in 2013, from the physical game to adding a few goals here and there, he can become another threat in the lineup. Quenneville said he liked Bickell’s response in Saturday’s preseason finale, which came a few hours after he cleared waivers. Bickell needs to keep having that response all season.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

4. Will Artem Anisimov be the second-line center the Blackhawks are looking for? Considering the Blackhawks gave Anisimov a contract extension not long after he was acquired this summer, he better be. Anisimov showed good chemistry with Patrick Kane and Panarin in the final preseason game; Quenneville already said there could be something to that line. Anisimov will be like other news players here, adjusting to the Blackhawks’ system as he goes. But he gives the Blackhawks a strong and big – another thing they’ve been missing there – option at second-line center.

5. How will the defensive changes fare? As of now, the Blackhawks’ seven defensemen will be Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Daley, Trevor van Riemsdyk, David Rundblad and Ville Pokka. How they’re paired is uncertain, although Keith and van Riemsdyk played some during the preseason, as did Seabrook and Daley. How much shuffling will Quenneville do, considering the changes back there this season? Pokka was recalled on Tuesday; does he get into a few games? The Blackhawks’ biggest questions are here to start the season. We all know what Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson can do when pressed into extra service – please see the final two rounds of the 2015 playoffs. But over 82 games, the Blackhawks will need reliable play throughout their defensive corps. Stay tuned.

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.

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.