Blackhawks

NHL Power Rankings: Second half X-factors

nhl-power-rankings-second-half-x-factors.png

NHL Power Rankings: Second half X-factors

The All-Star weekend is officially over, which means it's time to get back to business.

With less than three months remaining in the regular season, expect teams to ramp it up in an effort to make a playoff push. Get ready for more low-scoring games as teams will tighten up defensively. The rink will begin to shrink, the whistles will be swallowed, and the most grueling postseason in sports is almost around the corner.

So let's take a look at each team's X-factor heading into the back-nine of the NHL season.

Check in with CSNChicago.com for updated rankings every Monday throughout the 2015-16 campaign. Here's where we're at so far: Preseason rankings | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16

 

Rank Team
Last Week Record/Comment
1 1

35-8-4, 74 points: Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 23-year-old center has evolved into an All-Star (he replaced Alex Ovechkin in Nashville over the weekend), and has helped take away some pressure on the top line to produce on offense. He's been a big key to Washington's success.

2  

33-16-4, 70 points: Andrew Shaw. It took a while for the Blackhawks to find that left wing on the top line, and Shaw has seized that opportunity over the last two months. If he can permanently stay there, that allows the Blackhawks to play Teuvo Teravainen on the third line to distribute the scoring.

3

30-16-3, 63 points: Vincent Lecavalier. The Kings were already one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, but Lecavalier has given them an above-average No. 3 center and some more quality depth up the middle, which is crucial in the postseason.

4
 
4

29-15-5, 63 points: Nick Bjugstad. The first line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr has done the heavy-duty lifting for the Panthers. If Bjugstad starts producing at a higher rate, that gives a young and relatively thin Panthers team another layer on offense.

5
 

27-18-4, 58 points: Vladislav Namestnikov. He didn't play a single minute in last year's Stanley Cup Final, and now finds himself centering the top line with Ondrej Palat and Steven Stamkos. He's a perfect cog for those two players, and allows the Lightning to roll four solid lines.

6  

28-16-8, 64 points: Troy Brouwer. While Jaden Schwartz, who's expected to return soon, could easily fit this category, Brouwer is the guy they acquired for T.J. Oshie and they'll be vital to the Blues' second half and postseason fate.

7  

25-16-6, 56 points: Nick Leddy. With Johnny Boychuk on injured reserve, the Islanders need somebody from the blue line to step up on both sides of the ice. Leddy stands out as the guy to help keep them in contention for the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division.

8  

24-17-7, 55 points: Carl Hagelin. Since being acquired by Pittsburgh, the line of Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have dominated puck possession numbers, controlling just over 60 percent of even-strength shot attempts when the three of them are on the ice together. Hagelin is a perfect fit for Mike Sullivan's system.

9  

25-16-8, 58 points: Mike Green. With Niklas Kronwall placed on long-term injured reserve, the Red Wings need everyone on defense to elevate their game. The door is open for Green to keep this group from dropping off defensively.

10   10 

31-14-5, 67 points: Patrick Sharp. The Stars have praised Sharp for his contributions on and off the ice ever since they acquired him. He's been through many ups and downs in Chicago, and his locker room presence will be important for a young Stars team looking to break through heading into the back half of the season.

11   11

26-18-5, 57 points: Loui Eriksson. When he's on the ice, the Bruins are controlling 54.8 percent of even-strength shot attempts, which ranks first on the team. He's not getting enough credit. If that production continues, the Bruins should claim a playoff spot.

12   12

26-18-4, 56 points: Logan Couture. The Sharks are simply a different team with Couture on the ice. The problem is, he hasn't been there much this season. If he can stay healthy, they have a legitimate chance at hanging on to the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Division and perhaps advance a round in the postseason.

13   13

22-18-7, 51 points: Ryan Kesler. The Ducks had a really solid January, and Kesler was a big part of that, scoring seven goals and four assists en route to a 7-3-1 record. When he's producing, so is everyone else.

14

 
 14

27-17-5, 59 points: Kevin Hayes. Instead of taking a step forward from his breakout rookie season, Hayes has taken a surprising step back in his sophomore year, at times being a healthy scratch. A second-half turnaround by Hayes would certainly lift the Rangers, who rank in the bottom 10 in possession numbers.

15
 
 17

23-20-8, 54 points: Jeff Skinner. The once Calder Trophy winner really struggled out of the gates, but found his groove in December and has given the Hurricanes some extra pop to their lineup. If he can continue that production, Carolina could make a real postseason push.

16   18 

24-18-8, 56 points: Pekka Rinne. The offense is starting to generate with the addition of Ryan Johansen. Now if Pekka Rinne can turn back into the Pekka Rinne we're used to seeing, the Predators should have no problem earning a playoff berth.

17   15 

23-17-9, 55 points: Thomas Vanek. Consistency is a big issue for Vanek, with his goals normally coming in spurts. But if they can get more from him, the team would benefit greatly. When he scores a goal, the Wild have a 10-2-1 record.

18   20

27-22-3, 57 points: Carl Soderberg. He's been a surprisingly nice acquisition, and has given the Avalanche a solid 1-2 punch up the middle. A repeat of his first half would be vital to Colorado's race to the playoffs.

19
 
19 

25-20-5, 55 points: Kyle Palmieri. While Cory Schneider is unquestionably New Jersey's MVP, Palmieri makes this team go on offense. Without him, the Devils wouldn't be flirting with a postseason berth.

20
 
16 

24-22-4, 52 points: Brendan Gallagher. There was a significant drop-off in offensive production when he was out of the lineup due to an injury, and they can't afford that again. To back that up, the Canadiens are controlling 57.9 percent of even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

21
 
21 

24-20-5, 53 points: Antoine Vermette. The 2-6 seeds in the Pacific Division are very much still up for grabs. Playing in late April would be pivotal for the Coyotes' rebuilding process, getting young guns like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair a taste of the playoff action, and Vermette's presence on and off the ice could help lead them there.

22   22  20-19-11, 51 points: Radim Vrbata. With just 22 points in 48 games, Vrbata is on pace to finish with his lowest point total in a full season since 2005-06. A second-half resurgence by Vrbata could make things interesting for the Canucks, who are already without captain Henrik Sedin.
23   23  23-21-6, 52 points: Mark Stone. Does last year's Calder Trophy finalist have another second-half surge in him? If he does, the Senators may too. 
24   24 

21-18-8, 50 points: Shayne Gostisbehere. What a story the 22-year-old rookie defenseman has been. He ranks first among defensemen on the Flyers with 22 points, and has only played in 29 games this season. A playoff berth may be a stretch, but Gostisbehere is the anchor of the team's defense that is still in it.

25    26

20-26-4, 44 points: Evander Kane. The Sabres are getting what they expected out of Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. They're not with Kane, yet. He needs to prove that he can become the offensive powerhouse that made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2009.

26   25 

21-24-3, 45 points: Jiri Hudler. After potting a career-high 31 goals last year, Hudler has just six in 41 games this season while mostly playing on a line with Johnny Gaudreau. A big second half by Hudler could change their position in the standings.

27   30

19-27-5, 43 points: Ryan Murray. With the Blue Jackets virtually out of the playoff picture, it's time to look at the big picture. We keep waiting on Murray's breakout season, but it hasn't happened yet. The final three months should provide a glimpse of what the future of Columbus' blue line will be in Murray and Seth Jones.

28   29 

22-24-3, 47 points: Jacob Trouba. The Jets see him as a star in the making, and with Dustin Byfuglien's status still up in the air, Trouba may get a shot to showcase that he can be the leader of the defense.

29   27 

19-26-5, 43 points: Leon Draisaitl. With Connor McDavid set to return to the lineup on Tuesday, that gives the Oilers one of the most dangerous first- and second-line centers in the league. If they can get some offensive production from both lines, a late Oilers run is certainly possible.

30   28

17-22-9, 43 points: Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer. When they're not breathing down each other's necks, that's when both goaltenders are at their best. It's about looking forward, not backward and the Maple Leafs have to decide which one is their starter for years to come.

*Advanced stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

johnny-t.jpg
USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention. 

Blackhawks 2018 NHL Draft capsules: Scouting reports and analysis

blackhawks-resize-draft.jpg
USA TODAY

Blackhawks 2018 NHL Draft capsules: Scouting reports and analysis

A recap of the Blackhawks' selections in the 2018 NHL Draft, and their scouting reports, including analysis from Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and VP of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

Round 1, pick 8: Adam Boqvist, defenseman

Round 1, pick 27: Nicolas Beaudin, defenseman

Round 3, pick 69: Jake Wise, center

— What you need to know: Wise, 18, scored 11 goals and dished out 32 assists in 38 games for the United States National Team Development Program last season. He also scored a goal and added four assists in seven games during the Under-18 World Junior Championship. Wise will play at Boston University next year.

— Scouting report: Wise is 5-foot-10, 194 pounds and is known to be an excellent skater. He's also responsible in his own end, which is a trait the Blackhawks always appreciate in their younger players.

— Player reaction: "I thought the Hawks were probably one of the teams I was going to go to for the longest time. I don’t know why, but I always had a gut feeling. And to go to the Blackhawks, it’s unbelievable. Unbelievable organization and I couldn’t be happier."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He's just a really smart two-way centerman. He had a great start to the season and then he missed some time and it was ironic when he came back, it was the same time Jack Hughes joined the team and all of a sudden they had a No. 1 and No. 2 center and the team really took off."

Round 3, pick 74: Niklas Nordgren, forward

— What you need to know: Nordgren, 18, compiled 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 28 games for Jr. A SM-liiga in the HIFK U20 league, and produced at a point-per-game rate in the playoffs with six goals and four assists in 10 games. He also reigstered 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in seven games for Finland during the Under-18 World Junior Championship. He plans to return to Finland next season.

— Scouting report: Nordgren is an undersized winger (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) but has the ability to score and can play in any situation.

— Player reaction: "Pretty exciting to get [drafted by the] Blackhawks, one of my favorites teams in the NHL."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He has great instincts around the net, he has a really good stick in traffic. I think if you look and track his goals you'll find they're goal scorers goals. He gets in the dirt, he's not afraid and he's just got a really great release."

Round 4, pick 120: Philipp Kurashev, forward

— What you need to know: Kurashev, 18, recorded 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 59 games for the Québec Remparts of the QMJHL, and added one goal and four assists in six postseason contests. He also scored a goal and added two assists in five games with Switzerland during the Under-20 World Junior Championship.

— Scouting report: Kurashev is 6-foot-0, 190 pounds and is known to be a smooth skater who can blow past defenders during odd-man rushes. There are concerns about his effort level, but the package is there and that's what attracted the Blackhawks.

— Analysis from Kelley: "Really smart, skilled centerman but he's also really strong on his skates. We thought he had a really good year this year. We think he's better acclimated, we expect him to have a real good year this year coming back."

Round 5, pick 139: Mikael Hakkarainen, forward

— What you need to know: Hakkarainen, 20, accumulated 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 36 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL last season, and added an assist in three playoff games. He was a member of the Chicago Steel for 16 games in 2016-17, where he recorded four assists. Hakkarainen will play at Providence College for the 2018-19 season.

— Scouting report: Hakkarainen is 6-foot-1, 194 pounds and can be an impact-type player and contribute on special teams.

— Analysis from Kelley: "I think what attracted us to him was, when you went and saw him play, he got on the scoresheet but even if he wasn't on the scoresheet you noticed him play. He played hard. 200-foot."

Round 6, pick 162: Alexis Gravel, goaltender

— What you need to know: Gravel, 18, had a 3.38 goals against average and .890 save percentage in 39 games with Halifax Mooseheads last season, and a 2.70 GAA and .917 save percentage in eight playoff games. 

— Scouting report: Gravel is 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, which immediately stand out because it's the kind of size and big frame the Blackhawks like in their goaltenders. His strengths include his quick glove hand and rebound control.

— Player reaction: "It's amazing. It's probably the best day of my life. I just look down and there's a Chicago Blackhawks logo on the jersey. It feels amazing. It's unreal."

— Analysis from Bowman: "Alexis is a guy we think has a lot of potential. And with goalies you have to be patient with them, they take a little bit longer [to develop]. But he’s got a lot of ability, he’s got the size to be an NHL goalie, and I think that’s part of it. We’re happy that he was there and we were able to get him."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He's going to have a great situation. They're going to host the Memorial Cup next year. We're expecting a peak year out of him. He's been a good goaltender. This year we saw him play some really good games. He's in a good spot. We like the opportunity for him."

Round 7, pick 193: Josiah Slavin, forward

— What you need to know: Slavin, 19, had 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) in 60 games last season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, and two goals and one assist in seven playoff games. He is expected to return to the USHL before going to Colorado College in 2019-20. He is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin.

— Analysis from Kelley: "We like the project there. We think where he is on the curve, he's gonna play another year and then go to Colorado College. We just like the whole project."