Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks rematch with Rangers tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks rematch with Rangers tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the New York Rangers tonight on CSN and streaming live on Coverage begins at 5:30 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. Scott Darling vs. Antti Raanta, Part II?

In one of the best goaltending duels you'll see this season, the pair of former Blackhawks teammates put on an amazing show in Friday's game which ended in a 1-0 overtime victory for the New York Rangers. Raanta stopped all 26 shots he saw while Darling recorded a season-high 36 saves, prompting this cool exchange after the game acknowledging one another. Both goalies have been terrific lately, with Raanta earning the NHL's first star of the week honors by going 3-0-0 with a 0.33 goals against average, .984 save percentage and two shutouts. Darling has been great as well, allowing only one goal in regulation over the last three games. We might be in for another fun battle. Or, you know, since we're all expecting a low-scoring affair, it probably will be the exact opposite this time around.

2. Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews return.

Seabrook has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, but will return tonight, giving the Blackhawks a significant boost in all areas on the blue line. The other somewhat shocker is that Toews, who was sidelined for nine games, has also been cleared to play from the back injury he had been dealing with. Considering the Blackhawks said they wouldn't rush him back, this is great news knowing he's back to being 100 percent healthy. He was centering the top line with Ryan Hartman and Marian Hossa in morning skate.

3. Duncan Keith climbing in Blackhawks' all-time points rankings.

After registering his 18th assist of the season in Sunday's 3-1 win over Dallas, Keith is now one point away from tying Pierre Pilote for fourth-most by a Blackhawks defenseman — and 20th in franchise history — with 477. It would be nice to see him reach that total with a goal, something he surprisingly hasn't done yet this season through 30 games.

4. Can Ryan Hartman make his presence felt again?

While the rookies have struggled to find the back of the net lately, Hartman made his presence felt in Sunday's win over Dallas by logging an assist and four shots on goal. He should have had two assists when he drove hard to the net straight from the penalty box and created a scoring chance, which was rebounded home by Artem Anisimov. That turned out to be the game-winning goal, and it started because of Hartman despite him not being rewarded on the scoresheet. If we're in for another 1-0 game, the goal will likely be a gritty one and that's right up Hartman's ally.

5. Is the power play back?

The Blackhawks' power play has been searching for consistency pretty much all season, going on spurts here and there along with lengthy droughts. In their previous nine games, the Blackhawks were 1-for-22 in that department, a .05 percent success rate. In the last three games, they're 2-for-7 (28.6 percent). But both of those goals came against the lowly Coyotes and Stars, so it's not exactly safe to say they're out of the woods. Perhaps that will serve as a mini confidence boost, though.

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How Erik Karlsson’s extension with Sharks impacts Blackhawks, Western Conference


How Erik Karlsson’s extension with Sharks impacts Blackhawks, Western Conference

The 2019 NHL free agent class — both restricted and unrestricted — is absolutely loaded. But perhaps the biggest fish of them all has already been taken off the board.

Erik Karlsson and the San Jose Sharks have agreed to an eight-year extension worth $11.5 million per year, according to Cap Friendly, becoming the highest-paid defenseman in league history. It’s a significant move for the Sharks, who are looking to keep the band together and take a few more stabs at a Stanley Cup before their window starts to close — Joe Thornton is 39, Joe Pavelski turns 35 in July, Brent Burns is 34, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 32 and Logan Couture is 30.

How the Sharks make the math work going forward will be fascinating to monitor. Thornton, if he doesn't decide to hang up the skates, is a UFA. Same with Pavelski, who is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career. Both of those players have become part of the Sharks identity, but their futures aren't guaranteed. And then there are guys like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier, both of whom are RFAs and due big raises.

So how does the Karlsson extension impact the Blackhawks and the rest of the Western Conference?

For starters, the UFA defensemen class just got thinner and that could lead to overpayment across the board from teams looking for impact-type blue-liners because general managers that are looking to make a splash don’t want to come away empty-handed. The Blackhawks were never going to be in on Karlsson, but his contract set the market for this year's class and the fact the signing came before the NHL Draft now gives teams that would've been in on Karlsson an opportunity to refocus ahead of the negotiating period.

In the bigger picture, the Sharks just solidified themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for at least the next couple seasons. While the Karlsson contract may not look the greatest on the back half, given his durability issues, the Sharks had no choice but to offer him a blank check. When healthy, he is a game-changer and a two-time Norris Trophy winner who's still in his prime, and if the Sharks win a title in the next couple years then it was well worth it. You don't let players like him walk.

The Blackhawks are expected to be aggressive over the next several weeks, particularly in free agency but also continuing to explore the trade market. We already saw that when they acquired defenseman Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a move that could only be the first of many this offseason. The West might be top heavy, but this past season proved that any team can turn it around quickly and the Blackhawks need to do everything in their power to make sure they're one of those teams.

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2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Dylan Cozens


2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Dylan Cozens

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Dylan Cozens

Position: Center
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 180 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report from Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

"Dylan Cozens is a two-way centerman who plays fast and he plays inside."

Scouting report from NHL draft expert Adam Kimelman:

"Guys who can move the way he moves at that size are rare. And when you add in talent, the work ethic, the skill, the hands in tight, the shot, he's the complete package. ... To me, he is the second-best center in this draft after Jack Hughes."

Cozens describes his own game:

Strengths: "I’d say my strength is just my skating. That’s the biggest thing: being able to use my speed to create separation between other players and allowing time and space for myself and my teammates. I’d also say my shot. I’m more of a shoot-first guy but I can still make a play. I’d think those are the two biggest things: my speed and my shot.

Improvements: "I just want to be strong on my stick in going into battles and when I’m on the puck. I think that’s the biggest thing. That will come with strength when I get to the next level and as I get older. That’s the biggest thing: just having the mentality going into every battle that you’re going to win it and being as strong on your stick as you can be."

NHL player comparable: Jeff Carter

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks will have a pool of centers to choose from. Cozens has been one of the five candidates discussed as an option, and for good reason. He has all the tools to become an elite player in the NHL, which includes size, speed and skill. And perhaps a little bonus: He was very confident at the scouting combine that he could make the jump to the big leagues as soon as next season.

Cozens has often been compared to Carter, who has also played both center and wing in his career. The Blackhawks like when their forwards have some versatility and Cozens offers that. There aren't many flaws in Cozens' game, and his two-way prowess could make the Blackhawks' decision a difficult one.

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