Five Things: New Blackhawks making immediate impact


Five Things: New Blackhawks making immediate impact

When the Blackhawks hosted the Washington Capitals on Sunday it promised to be an entertaining late-morning tilt. It didn’t disappoint.

After a few active trading days, the Blackhawks debuted a somewhat different lineup that also didn’t disappoint in a 3-2 victory over the Capitals, who have the best record in the NHL (45-12-4). It was fun, exhilarating and fast hockey, and it makes you wonder what kind of a series it would be if, by chance, these two would meet in June.

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But we’re getting way, way, way ahead of ourselves here. So before we call it an early day, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over the Capitals.

1. Two of the new guys make immediate impacts. The Blackhawks obviously knew what they were getting with Ladd, and the veteran looked comfortable a few minutes in with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Shaw. He added the secondary assist on Toews’ power-play goal. Tomas Fleischmann fit in well in his first game, too. The third-line combination with he, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Desjardins looked very good, getting scoring opportunities and playing a strong all-around game.

2. Dennis Rasmussen scores the big goal. Considering recent trade acquisitions and the fact that Marian Hossa should be back relatively soon, you wonder how long Rasmussen will stay with the big club. Even if it isn’t much longer, Rasmussen made a big contribution on Sunday with what ended up being the game-winning goal. Rasmussen hadn’t scored since mid-December, so Sunday’s goal was a relief. “I try to play the two-way game and try to be strong at everything I do and play a simple game. But obviously nice to get a couple of goals, too,” Rasmussen said. “It’s been a while, so I’m happy.”

3. Blackhawks get away with a slow start. The Capitals looked like they were ready for the first 20 minutes on Sunday. The Blackhawks did not. But thanks to a great Trevor van Riemsdyk pass to Patrick Kane, who scored his 36th goal of the season, the Blackhawks came out of it 1-1 instead of down at least a goal. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “we got through [the first] 1-1, it was like a win.”

4. Teravainen looked much better. In too many games this season Teravainen has looked hesitant and lacking confidence. He didn’t look that in this one. Whether it was the new line mates or just the right outlook, Teravainen played on Sunday the way the Blackhawks have wanted him to all season.

5. The Capitals are really, really good. The Blackhawks got the victory today but there’s no doubt from goaltending to depth to the scoring ability, there’s a reason the Capitals are the best team in the league. The Capitals just come in waves, and there’s no doubt they had the Blackhawks on their heels in the first period.

The next wave of Blackhawks defensemen is coming


The next wave of Blackhawks defensemen is coming

It seems like yesterday the Blackhawks were scraping for young, impact defensemen prospects. Just one, even.

Oh, how that's changed significantly over the last 12 months.

In 2015 and 2016, the Blackhawks did not own a first-round pick. And before that, they hadn't drafted a defenseman in the first round since Dylan Olsen — 28th overall — in 2009. Luckily, they had already hit on Duncan Keith (second round in 2002) and Brent Seabrook (first round in 2003) in back-to-back drafts, and two years later on Niklas Hjalmarsson (fourth round in 2005).

That was a long time ago. Keith is turning 35 in July and Seabrook turned 33 in April. The Blackhawks have gotten that second wave of talent up front with Alex DeBrincat, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Dylan Sikura. The same can't be said for the defense.

But it's coming.

Since last June, the Blackhawks have added defensemen Henri Jokiharju, Ian Mitchell, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin to their pipeline and used each of their three first-round picks in the past two drafts to do it. Mitchell was the lone second-round pick, and he had an oustanding freshman season at Denver, meaning he could be ready sooner than later — probably after his sophomore campaign.

Despite the need for defensemen, the Blackhawks never wavered on their draft approach and the desire to add instant help didn't impact how they went about this past weekend. Draft the best player available and you can't go wrong.

The good news for the Blackhawks is, the players that were rated highest on their board when their picks rolled around were positional needs. How fitting.

"Coming into the draft, we're just looking for the best value players we have; guys ranked the highest at their spots," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said on drafting Boqvist and Beaudin. "It just so happened they're both defensemen, which is great because that's a very important position. I think they're the highest valued assets.

"Calling around this week about potential trades and looking for players and they're the hardest things to find. We didn't draft them just because they're defensemen. We like both of their style of play, their skill set. I think they both play the modern NHL game. Both have bright futures."

There are high hopes for all four of them.

Then you look deeper inside the organization and you'll find Gustav Forsling, who was once considered the Blackhawks' top defensive prospect and currently finds himself in the five-spot. Yet, he's the most NHL ready and could have a full-time role with the Blackhawks next season.

Peel the next layer and you'll see Blake Hillman, who showed promise and great situational defensive awareness in his brief stint last season. Dennis Gilbert, who brings size and physicality, offers a different element and will continue his developement with the Rockford IceHogs. And then there's Lucas Carlsson and Carl Dahlstrom, both of whom could make things interesting in training camp.

Suddenly, the Blackhawks are faced with having, what you would call, a good problem to have by putting together one of the best young defensive farm systems in the league.

Now, that's not to say that each of these guys are going to pan out the way the Blackhawks are hoping they will. But you're increasing your chances by collecting a number of players with high-end talent and creating competition.

The real question is when they'll all be ready.

While there may be temptation to push them along to help the Blackhawks in the short term, it's important to resist that because the future on the back end looks promising if they each grow at their own pace.

Boqvist has the potential to be Erik Karlsson as a best-case scenario. Even if he can be half of that, that's a win. Jokiharju's ceiling is whatever he wants it to be, and throwing Boqvist into the mix perhaps alleviates some pressure off his shoulders. Beaudin and Mitchell each have top-four potential and should develop as such.

Knowing what they could be capable of with proper development, there shouldn't be any reason to rush it. Just be excited they're on the way.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?


Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.