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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 CSNChicago.com. 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.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

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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Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

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AP

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.