Marian Hossa proves he's still got it, nets game-winner for Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets

Marian Hossa proves he's still got it, nets game-winner for Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets

Marian Hossa's struggles last season were evident. Sure, the trademark defense was still there, but the offense wasn't. To some teammates, he wasn't losing anything, he was just snake bit. Regardless, one wondered how much Hossa had left and if he could rebound this season.

Apparently, he has plenty left.

Hossa's 26th goal of the season proved to be the game winner, and Corey Crawford stopped 32 of 33 shots in the victory as the Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets by a 3-1 score on Friday. The Blackhawks have won two in a row and re-established a nine-point lead over the Minnesota Wild.

It was another milestone-heavy night for the Blackhawks. The team won its 50th game of the season, Patrick Kane recorded three assists to hit 750 career points, and Jonathan Toews collected his 350th career assist.

Artemi Panarin scored two goals; he has four goals in his last three games.

For Hossa, a long offseason of rest helped. So does playing with a good crop of rookies, who keep Hossa motivated.

"The young guys just playing around me keep me going," Hossa said. "It's a fast game out there, and I try to skate as hard as they do. And it's working so far."

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Much like they did against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Blackhawks got an early lead in this one. They just did it a lot quicker. Panarin gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 edge just 32 seconds into the game — and four seconds into their first power play. Nick Foligno tied it with a 4-on-4 goal later in the period. But just 22 seconds after that Hossa, taking the pass from Kane, put the Blackhawks back up, 2-1.

Panarin added his second goal of the night, an empty-net effort, with 43.9 seconds remaining in regulation.

Crawford did the rest. Coming off a tough Florida game — though he shouldn't shoulder the blame for all of that — Crawford's allowed two goals in his last two starts. He was especially good in the third period, when the Blue Jackets outshot the Blackhawks 14-7.

"He was excellent tonight, very sharp, very quick," coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford. "They go to the net hard, lot of traffic, lot of bodies. He was finding the puck and was square to the next shot as well. He looked very alert around the net tonight."

The Blackhawks are back to playing like a confident group. The same goes for Hossa. Maybe he was snake-bit last season. Whatever the problem, it's definitely not affecting him anymore.

"It definitely gives you more confidence," Hossa said of his improved numbers. "I knew I had it in me after last year. To not be able to put the puck in (last year) even though I had as many chances, maybe, as this year, but it didn't go in. It's nice to prove to myself, that you still got it."

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

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

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

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."