CSN Chicago will unveil a preview each day for every Central Division team leading up to the NHL's season-opener. Next up: Chicago Blackhawks.
If there's any team that needed an extended offseason to rest and recharge, it was the Blackhawks.
After capturing three Stanley Cups and appearing in five Conference Finals since 2010, you could argue the toll of playing deep into June almost every year caught up to them in a first-round exit to the St. Louis Blues last postseason.
But it was also the inability to roll four consistent lines while trying to hide a leaky back end of the defense. The latter shouldn't be an issue this year. In fact, it's become their strength.
The Blackhawks' defensive corps from top to bottom is the deepest it's been in years, anchored by two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook. The addition of Brian Campbell was arguably the best bargain signing of the offseason, and he immediately slots into a top-four role.
The emergence of Gustav Forsling has given the Blackhawks another weapon on a crowded blue line that is rounded out by Michal Kempny, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival.
Combine that with Corey Crawford, who was on his way to becoming a Vezina Trophy finalist before a late-season injury deflated his chances, and Scott Darling, the reliable backup who puts a stamp on one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, and it will be difficult for opposing teams to find the back of the net.
Up front is where the questions will lie all season.
Coach Joel Quenneville will surely be blending his lines even more than he's used to in an effort to find balance.
The line of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin was one of the most effective units in the NHL last year, controlling 53.41 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when on the ice together. But they could see more time apart if the Blackhawks have trouble distributing the scoring on the other three lines.
Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will reunite on the top line, but Hossa is expected to take on more of a checking role on the third line with Marcus Kruger so it's only a matter of time when the juggling begins.
It's a top-heavy forward group to start, but that could change over time as prospects such as Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz get acclimated to the NHL and will be relied upon to take on larger roles on the fly.
The rejuvenated Blackhawks will certainly be among the top teams in the Central Division and always pose as a serious threat come playoff time. How far they go will depend on how quickly the young guys can gel and help the Blackhawks be a strong four-line team again.