NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Can Blackhawks roll a four-line rotation?

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Can Blackhawks roll a four-line rotation?

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.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

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.

Other previews: Colorado Avalanche | Dallas Stars | Minnesota Wild | Nashville Predators | St. Louis Blues | Winnipeg Jets

NHL Draft Profile: D Adam Boqvist

NHL Draft Profile: D Adam Boqvist

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

Adam Boqvist

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 168 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Boqvist is a finesse defenseman who is very skilled, possesses excellent vision and tons of talent. He is fun to watch and full of surprises on the ice. He often plays bigger than his size and skated in his first games with Sweden's Senior National Team in April."

NHL player comparable: Erik Karlsson

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would love to have Karlsson, who is probably being traded out of Ottawa this summer. Every team would love to have him. But that's not realistic for Chicago. So what if they drafted his potential mini me?

Boqvist is electric with the puck and has drawn comparisons to the Swedish defenseman as a best-case scenario.

There are two concerns, though. One is that he may need some time to develop at just 17 years old and his defense a work in progress. The second is that he's sustained head injuries over the course of his young career, which adds a little bit of risk to the equation.

If he can stay healthy and his development isn't rushed, there's major upside here. But are the Blackhawks willing to be patient? We're not so sure.

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?


Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

Here's an interesting development as we approach the NHL Draft: Artemi Panarin has informed the Blue Jackets that he's not ready to consider an extension "at this time" and because of that, Columbus is testing the market for the Russian winger, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen responded to the report shortly after in a statement released by the team:

"Artemi is an elite National Hockey League player. Our position has been that we want him to be a Blue Jacket for many years and that has not changed. He has a year left on his contract, so there is plenty of time to work towards that end. Should anything change moving forward, we will address it at that time and any decision we make will be in the best interest of our club.”

Ironically, Panarin was traded to Columbus on the afternoon of last year's draft as part of a blockbuster package that sent Brandon Saad back to Chicago. It shook up the hockey world, and has the potential to do so again.

Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but is free to sign an extension with Columbus on July 1. Clearly, that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now and it's why the Blue Jackets have to put out feelers. They can't risk losing him for nothing.

On the flip side, Panarin has every right to test the open market. He has one year left on his contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. He's due for a hefty raise, will be 27 years old next summer — the prime of his hockey career — and will certainly be looking for a long-term deal after accepting a bridge contract with the Blackhawks.

Speaking of whom, should his former team explore bringing him back to Chicago now that he's on the market?

Every general manager should and will do their due diligence and call for an asking price, Stan Bowman included. Those conversations might start with Alex DeBrincat or Nick Schmaltz, and if that's the case, you say thanks but no thanks and move on. 

The Blackhawks have the Nos. 8 and 27 picks in this year's draft as possible ammunition, but the Blue Jackets are ready to take that next step. They were up 2-0 in their first-round series before losing four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. It's unlikely they'd be looking to center a potential deal around draft picks. 

The only way you even consider it from the Blackhawks perspective is if Panarin is guaranteed to sign a long-term extension at a price you're comfortable with, but that's one of the main reasons why they traded him in the first place. 

To cap it all off, trading for Panarin wouldn't even address the Blackhawks' biggest need and that's a Top 4 defenseman. Those don't grow on trees. The Blackhawks will have the cap space to sign a player like James van Riemsdyk to patch up their top 6. You can't say the same for the free-agent blue line group.

So while it may certainly be fun for Blackhawks fans to come up with possible trade scenarios to get Panarin back in an Indianhead sweater, it just doesn't make great sense for a variety of reasons.