Blackhawks

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Blue Jackets tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Blue Jackets tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 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. Can Blackhawks solve Sergei Bobrovsky?

The Blue Jackets have allowed the second-fewest goals per game (2.26) in the league, and a big part of that is because their very last line of defense. Bobrovsky leads all starting goaltenders in wins (41), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.935), and has been nearly impossible to crack over the last month. The 28-year-old netminder is 10-0-2 with a 1.07 goals against average, .968 save percentage and four shutouts in his last 12 starts, allowing one goal or fewer in nine of those games. He's all but locked up his second career Vezina Trophy.

2. Brandon Saad back in Chicago.

The former two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks who was traded to Columbus in 2015 due to salary-cap reasons will return to Chicago for the first time since Oct. 17, 2016. In that game the Blackhawks spoiled his return by beating the Blue Jackets 4-1, handing them their sixth straight loss to open the season, a losing streak that would eventually hit nine games. The Blue Jackets got the best of Chicago 3-2 in Columbus in the first meeting this season, but Saad is looking for revenge at the United Center. He joined Sportsnet's Hockey Central last week and said this game has been "marked on my calendar. I'm looking forward to going in there, especially after last year the way we played."

3. Talented rookies on display.

There will be plenty of young talent skating on the United Center ice tonight, three of which have been among the most impressive rookies this season. Zach Werenski, who was drafted No. 8 overall by Columbus in 2015, has been by far the best rookie defenseman with 11 goals and 36 assists in 76 games. He's only 19 years old, and is likely to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy, along with Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews.

The Blackhawks possess a pair of stud rookies, too. Since Feb. 8, Nick Schmaltz is averaging nearly a point per game with 20 points in 21 games; only William Nylander has more points (23 in 23 games) since then among rookies. And the other is Ryan Hartman, who ranks fifth among first-year players with 18 goals, 17 of which have come at even-strength.

4. Richard Panik on fire.

After going six straight games without a goal, Panik has lit the lamp in five of his last eight contests, including his last two. He also reached the 20-goal mark for the first time in his NHL career, and became the sixth Blackhawks player this season to hit that number. One more would put him into sole possession for fourth on the team, as Artem Anisimov (22 goals) remains out with a leg injury.

5. A recharged Marian Hossa.

Since missing two games with a lower-body injury in mid-March, Hossa looks rested and refreshed, which was great timing as he returned during a jam-packed part of the schedule. He has three goals and an assist in his past five games, and recently tied Bryan Trottier for 34th on the NHL's all-time goals list with 524.

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Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

The NHL and NHL Players' Association worked diligently into the late hours on Tuesday and reportedly made significant progress as the two sides look to come to an overall agreement on the protocols and safety measures for Phase 3 and 4, transition rules and a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension. 

Nothing is official until the entire deal is ratified — the voting could take place Friday or Saturday — but, barring any last-minute breakdowns, Edmonton and Toronto are expected to be named the two hub cities for the league's 24-team Return to Play plan, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. Chicago was among the four finalists from a field that started with 10 candidates.

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Vegas was a clear frontrunner from the beginning because of its appealing and tight bubble environment, but the NHL and NHLPA were forced to shift its attention elsewhere after an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

It was originally believed that the league would put each conference in opposite regions to eliminate any sort of competitive advantage, but that no longer appears to be the case. The Western Conference is expected to play in Edmonton while the Eastern Conference will go to Toronto, which means the Blackhawks will head to Edmonton if or when hockey officially returns.

Both hub cities will host exhibition games, the qualifying round and Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but only one of them will host the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final. It's unclear which city will host the latter.

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

When the NHL's Return To Play plan and 24-team playoff format were originally being hashed out, there was some hope that the Blackhawks could receive some much-needed defensive depth from Ian Mitchell. But that may not be the case.

Chicago could use all the help they can get in their potential best-of-5 play-in series against the Oilers under the league's format.

Mitchell, 21, was drafted by the Hawks in the second round (No. 57 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He spent the past three seasons at the University of Denver, captaining the Pioneers this past year and setting a career high in goals (10) and points (32) through 36 games.

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The promising defenseman signed a three-year entry-level contract with Chicago in April after the NHL paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11.

Wednesday morning, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported players in a similar boat to Mitchell who signed during the pause, as well as unsigned draft picks, are not expected to be eligible if and when the NHL resumes to finish the 2019-20 season.