Saturday, October 8, 2016

Open Spots To Be Filled As Blackhawks End Preseason With 2-1 Loss To Blues

The Chicago Blackhawks completed the 2016-17 preseason tonight with a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.  The games start counting now, starting Wednesday, the 12th, against St. Louis at the United Center.

The top brass have some hard decisions to make with their young talent.  Those that have had a notable preseason include: Tyler Motte, Alexandre Fortin, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, and Vincent Hinostroza.

With the departure of Andrew Shaw, and Teuvo Teravainen, there are two main roster spots available.   Hartman was rumored, at the trade of Shaw, to be the leading candidate for replacing him.  Hartman, 22, had a solid preseason, and should make the roster, although he still needs some time to grow.

A pleasant surprise, Motte, 21, has been arguably the best rookie this preseason.  Tallying two goals and one assist, he's shown patience with the puck, willingness to use his body in the dirty areas, and being a presence in front of the net.  Motte, decided to leave Michigan early, to join the Blackhawks, and it looks to have been a wise choice.

The weakness in the postseason last year was undoubtedly the defense, which was addressed in a big way during the off-season by bringing back veteran Brian Campbell, 37, for a second tour of duty.  Despite his age, he gives the Blackhawks a solid #4 defenseman that can eat up minutes and provide solid play every night.  He led the Florida Panthers last year in TOI (22:17) along with +/- (35).  With the addition of KHL defenseman, Michal Kempney, who will make the opening night roster, the defense has become the Blackhawks' strongest part of the team.

The offense, has now become their weakest spot.  Five of the twelve forwards from the 2015 Stanley Cup team remain on the team.  Last year, with the MVP performance of Patrick Kane, (106 pts, 46G, 60A), and the Calder performance of rookie, Artemi Panarin, (70 pts, 30G, 40A), they combined for over 32% of the total goals scored for the Blackhawks last season.  Coach Joel Quenneville's task is to how to provide a balanced attack over all four lines.  With an aging Marian Hossa, 37, and a young and inexperienced Richard Panik, 25, the top line, with Captain Jonathan Toews, could use some help.  Whether Motte, or one of the other young prospects can step up to become a top 6 forward, is yet to be seen.  It could take Quenneville up to a dozen games, possibly more, to juggle lines around to see what chemistry can be built between players.  He may split Kane and Panarin in the beginning to find that balanced attack, but he knows he has them when it is needed most.


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