Blackhawks

Hawks-Preds: Who busts out of late-season slump first?

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Hawks-Preds: Who busts out of late-season slump first?

The Blackhawks left Colorado not thrilled with the end to their regular season but certainly not demoralized by it either.

“We’ll be fine: get to practice and get excited about Monday (is) where we’re at,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “All four games, tight games, comparable losses.”

The Nashville Predators were probably feeling the same way, given they went winless in their last six regular-season games (0-4-2). The Blackhawks’ problem was they couldn’t score goals. The Preds’ problem was they couldn’t stop opponents from scoring them.

But as the two teams get set to meet in their first-round matchup later this week, the question is obvious: Which team shakes its late regular-season doldrums first?

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Now Blackhawks turn their attention to Predators]

The Blackhawks soon head to Nashville, where they’ll face the Predators in Game 1 on Wednesday and Game 2 on Friday. After another loss to end to the regular season on Saturday — a 3-2 loss to the Avalanche — the Blackhawks sounded relatively upbeat and ready to start the postseason.

Still, they know facing the Predators, who they haven’t seen since Dec. 29, won’t be easy. The Blackhawks have struggled to score goals, managing just five in their last four games. Now they get to try and solve Pekka Rinne.

“Obviously, the last four or five games here we haven’t scored enough goals, and it’s not going to be easier playing against Nashville,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We have to find a way to get people in front of the net more and get more rebounds and just more shots and just work him that way.”

For the Predators, giving up goals has been the problem. Whether it’s defense or Rinne, the numbers haven’t been good. Rinne gave up 14 goals in his last four regular-season starts, in which he went 0-2-2.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get a Niklas Hjalmarsson jersey right here]

So how much do late regular-season losing streaks affect a team? Quenneville said it doesn’t matter much at all.

“It starts fresh,” he said of the postseason. “Everything’s even.”

Well, maybe for some teams that’s true. Take the Los Angeles Kings last year, who went 1-2-2 down the stretch, lost the first three games to San Jose in the first round, then took off and won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Then there are last year’s St. Louis Blues, who dealt with injuries and a poor late-season record heading into the playoffs. They took the first two games from the Blackhawks, thanks to comebacks late in each contest, but then lost the next four.

If postseason experience is any benefit, the Blackhawks have plenty. Much like the Kings, they’ve usually saved their best for this time of year, regardless of how that last part of the 82-game schedule went. In facing a revamped Nashville team that’s hungry to become a playoff threat, the Blackhawks will need to tap into that same mindset now.

Neither the Blackhawks nor the Predators got the desired results these last few games. As Quenneville said, however, the slate is clean. Now we’ll see which team starts writing the more successful playoff story.

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Wahlstrom already has an NHL-caliber shot with a quick release and the ability to create space for himself and linemates. He's most known for his goal-scoring ability and elite shot, and can hit a one-timer as good or better than many professional players."

NHL player comparable: Phil Kessel

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would probably prefer to take a defenseman at No. 8, but because four of them might go inside the Top 7, the best available player on the board is likely to be a forward. And there's a decent chance that could be Wahlstrom.

Wahlstrom would immediately become Chicago's top prospect, and a player that has the potential to slide into the top six when he reaches the NHL — whenever that may be.

He's committed to college for the 2018-19 season, so it's doubtful he would join the team until at least 2019-20, but Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said in our draft preview edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast that it wouldn't deter them from picking him. 

And it shouldn't, because you don't want to waste a player of his caliber's entry-level years developing in the minors if he's not ready yet.

"I think the way we would evaluate it is, we project them, we try to get a timeline on when we think they might be NHL ready," Kelley said. "But we're also looking for where they are in their development curve and want their ceiling is. I think in some players, you have to be a little bit more patient for them to reach their ceiling. That doesn't necessarily mean that players can't exceed their development curve, I think we saw that with Alex DeBrincat last year."

NHL Draft Profile: D Rasmus Dahlin

NHL Draft Profile: D Rasmus Dahlin

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Rasmus Dahlin

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 181 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"Is the clear-cut No. 1, pro ready prospect for the 2018 draft. He has the skating, skills and elite hockey sense that can dictate the style of play and the pace of a game, whether it's with or without the puck. He finds ways to contribute and get the job done in all situations."

NHL player comparable: Nicklas Lidstrom

Fit for Blackhawks:

There is zero chance the Blackhawks can snag Dahlin, because it's highly unlikely the Buffalo Sabres would consider moving out of the No. 1 spot, and even if they did it would require a king's ransom. But for the sake of this exercise, what would Dahlin do for the Blackhawks organization?

Well, he's a player who immediately slots into your Top 4 and has the potential to emerge as Chicago's best defenseman in the next year or two. We're seeing it in Boston with Charlie McAvoy, Philadelphia with Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov, and Columbus with Zach Werenski and Seth Jones where these young defensemen are changing the directions of their franchise's.

That's what Dahlin would do for the Blackhawks, who are in desperate need of a young, impact blue liner. Now back to reality.