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

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

USA Today

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks divided practice into two groups on Thursday and Friday. One of them was filled with NHL players. The other was loaded with prospects.

Dylan Sikura found himself in the first group with the prospects, and it's hard not to read into what that could mean about his standing with the team as the coaching staff looks to finalize its 23-man roster over the next two weeks.

Once thought of as a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, Sikura put up strong numbers in the AHL last season but his offensive production hasn't translated to the NHL level.

Part of that is because he was put in favorable situations in college and Rockford, where he played first-line minutes and was the go-to guy on the top power play unit. It was difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago when players like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are viewed as the heavy lifters on offense.

When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June for defenseman Olli Maatta, GM Stan Bowman felt he was able to pull the trigger on that trade because he was confident that there were players in-house ready for bigger roles and that could fill Kahun's skates. Bowman singled out Sikura specifically.

“Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura,” Bowman said at the time. “He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik has.”

Bowman is right. When Sikura was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season, the Blackhawks controlled 55.4 percent of the shot attempts and 53.2 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, those numbers dropped to 47.7 and 45.5, respectively. 

But through 38 career games with the Blackhawks, Sikura is still looking for his first career NHL goal and he knows it's a results-oriented business.

“It's obviously something you think about every now and then and it's tough but I thought there was spurts last year where I was really good," Sikura said. "And even though I wasn't scoring I was still playing and put in situations playing with top guys, so I think all that is going to help me in the long run. Coach always says you end up getting rewarded for what you deserve and I think if I continue to work away from the puck and work on that side of the game then the offense will come."

Sikura survived the first wave of cuts, which consisted of six players. But the next round is expected to be bigger and should come this weekend with the IceHogs training camp beginning Sunday.

Whether Sikura is part of that remains to be seen, but with a crowded forward group already and limited spots available, he might have to wait for his chance again mid-season.

“You always got to be ready, if it's going to be here to start the season or down there, you always got to be ready to go,” Sikura said. “You saw last year, I think when you're down there sometimes you don't think you're coming up then next day you get a call, so you always got to be ready and working on your game. It's a little bit of different hockey down there, but you've got to do the little things and I think my game kind of changes down there a little, but to stick up here I've got to do the little things and hopefully it all works out."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

Detroit Red Wings

Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

After starting training camp with 55 players, the Blackhawks made their first wave of roster cuts on Friday and they weren't very surprising.

Forwards Nathan Noel, Graham Knott, Tyler Sikura, Tim Soderlund, Dylan McLaughlin, Kris Versteeg and defensemen Chad Krys, Jack Ramsey and Jake Ryczek were re-assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Goaltender Alexis Gravel was also returned to his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Blackhawks training camp roster now sits at 45 players: 26 forwards, 14 defensemen and five goaltenders.

The IceHogs kick off their training camp on Sunday, so expect the Blackhawks to make more roster moves before then. Saturday's preseason game against the Boston Bruins could serve as the final opportunity for some of the bubble players to make an impression before the organization makes their next round of cuts.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.