Blackhawks

Niklas Hjalmarsson to return from suspension when Blackhawks take on Predators

Niklas Hjalmarsson to return from suspension when Blackhawks take on Predators

Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the lineup, and Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov are also expected to play when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators on Friday night.

Hossa did not practice on Thursday, but coach Joel Quenneville said it was just a maintenance day. Anisimov started practice but left after a few minutes; Quenneville said it was just a “preventive” measure.

Corey Crawford will start vs. the Predators.

The Blackhawks tinkered with their lines on Thursday. Artemi Panarin moved to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, while Tyler Motte moved up to the second line with Anisimov and Kane. Asked if those top two lines were altered due to Hossa’s absence or if they could be implemented in tomorrow’s game, Quenneville said, “we’re looking at it.”

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As for Hjalmarsson, he’s completed his three-game suspension for his preseason hit on St. Louis’ Ty Rattie. Quenneville would not say which defenseman would come out of the lineup for tomorrow’s game. Hjalmarsson, meanwhile, is ready to return.

“Very excited. It’s always a fun building to play in, too, in Nashville. It’s always loud and high-paced game,” he said. “So it’s going to be a tough challenge right away, but I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it.”

The Blackhawks could’ve used Hjalmarsson for every situation in their season-opening loss to St. Louis on Wednesday, including their penalty kill. Hjalmarsson did like what he saw from the Blackhawks’ young defensemen, Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling.

“I thought both of them were very impressive. If you didn’t know it was their first game, you definitely wouldn’t have thought that it was their first game,” he said. “I think they played a really solid, solid game and as a lot of guys have said before this season, I think on the back end, we’re as deep as we have ever been. So it’s always good with competition. It keeps pushing everybody to be on their toes and be at their best to stay in the lineup. Hopefully that will be a healthy competition throughout the whole year.”

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

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

Evan Bouchard

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 193 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"A highly intelligent defenseman with exceptional vision and offensive instincts. He reads the play very well and his passing ability allows him to be a constant threat in his team's transition game. He's one of the top offensive-defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League and magician-like when quarterbacking the power play."

NHL player comparable: John Carlson/Alex Pietrangelo

Fit for Blackhawks:

At 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, Bouchard is one of the most NHL-ready defensemen in this year's draft and that could be appetizing for a team like the Blackhawks, who are looking for immediate help on the blue line. But Bouchard is a right-handed shot, and drafting him would add a third high-end right-handed shot defenseman to the organization, along with prospects Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell.

You can never have enough of them, but there's only room for three before somebody would have to play on their off hand and that would mean the third would be playing on the bottom pairing. All three of these players have Top 4 potential.

Still, that may not even come into play here. The Blackhawks will seek to take the best available player, like they always have. And if they feel it's Bouchard, they'll do it.

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

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

Brady Tkachuk

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 196 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"I know Tkachuk isn't a center, but Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) is another player who comes to mind with his combination of size, strength, skill and nastiness. Tkachuk has impressive hand skills and his upside has only begun because I think there's lots of maturity and growth to come. I've seen his speed and skating improve each of the past three years and I think he'll still get stronger and his balance will get better. His man strength will come and it'll be like, 'Oh boy, look out.'"

NHL player comparable: Matthew Tkachuk/Wayne Simmonds

Fit for Blackhawks:

If you're looking for a player that checks all the boxes in this year's draft, it's Tkachuk. And man could the Blackhawks use a player like him.

He's got offensive skill, willingly goes to the greasy areas, can provide net-front presence while playing a top-six role, and perhaps the most important part for the Blackhawks: he's very close to NHL ready. The Blackhawks will be patient with whoever they draft, but there's also some urgency to turn things around in 2018-19.

If they can draft a player like Tkachuk who can potentially jump into the lineup as early as this upcoming season, that would be ideal. Because he's the type of player that can make an impact, not just get by.