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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks back at it against Predators tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks back at it against Predators tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Nashville Predators tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

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Five Things to Watch:

1. Who's in and who's out?

The Blackhawks are getting hit by the injury bug all at once, but they overcame it in Friday's 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders. Tonight could be more difficult against a hot Predators team in their building. and the second of a back-to-back. Joel Quenneville said after yesterday's game that Artem Anisimov (lower-body injury) and Nick Schmaltz (illness) "could play" tonight, and just getting one back would be a boost and help balance out the lines. The Blackhawks were forced to start Tanner Kero at second line center in between Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, a spot Schmaltz thrived in after Anisimov left Wednesday's game early.

Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper-body) and newly-acquired defenseman Johnny Oduya (ankle/conditioning) remain out of the lineup, and are aiming to return next week.

2. Is Artemi Panarin past his slump?

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been on fire over the past month, as has been the top line, spearheading the Blackhawks to an 11-1-0 record in their last 12 games. It's hidden the recent scoring slump of Panarin, who had just two goals in his last 20 games entering Friday's game. He broke through in a big way, by burying a one-timer with 1:14 left in regulation to tie the game and netting the game-winner in the shootout. It's a huge confidence boost for the Russian winger, and perhaps it will open the floodgates.

3. Duncan Keith and P.K. Subban.

These two are among the best and most entertaining defensemen in the NHL, and both play important roles on their clubs. Keith ranks fourth among all blue liners with 39 assists and 44 points, logging 25:53 of ice time per game. Subban is tied for ninth among defensemen with 0.65 points per game, and is a key factor on the power play for the Predators with 12 of his 31 points coming on the man advantage.

4. How will Corey Crawford respond to second game in two days?

After it was announced that Scott Darling will miss the next three weeks with an upper-body injury, a source telling Insider Tracey Myers that it's his hand, Crawford might have a heavy slate coming up. Darling probably would have gotten one of these past two, but it's likely going to be Crawford again in a divisional game — although Quenneville did not provide a clear-cut answer yesterday.

If, in fact, Crawford is between the pipes, it will be his first time starting two games in as many days since December 2015. Considering he's started in only four games the last 22 days — due to the Blackhawks' bye week and an illness that sidelined him for another week — there shouldn't be any concern about fatigue. He's fresh, and coming off a terrific performance in which he stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 shootout win.

5. It's raining hat tricks.

In the past 12 days, Filip Forsberg, Kane and Toews have combined for five hat tricks, with a pair each by the Predators 22-year-old forward and reigning Hart Trophy winner. Forsberg had back-to-back three-goal games a week and a half ago, while Kane followed up Toews' three-goal, five-point night with a hat trick of his own, and another on Wednesday. Could we see another one tonight?

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Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

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Bildbyrån

Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

One month after "mutually" agreeing to part ways with assistant coach Don Granato, the Blackhawks have hired 38-year-old Tomas Mitell as his replacement on Jeremy Colliton's staff. 

Mitell spent the past two seasons as head coach of AIK Hockey (Allsvenskan) in Sweden, where he guided the team to an overall record of 64-27-13. He led AIK to a league-best 35-8-9 record during the 2018-19 campaign, with their 35 wins and 109 points each setting franchise records.

Perhaps more notably: Mitell served as an assistant coach under Colliton with Mora IK (Allsvenskan) during the 2016-17 season, so there's obvious familiarity between the two. 

Mitell rounds out Colliton's staff that also includes assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank and veteran goaltending coach Jimmy Waite. It's a young group behind the Chicago bench, with Colliton (34), Brookbank (38) and Mitell (38) each having little NHL coaching experience but offer a new-school way of thinking.

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