CHISportsNation

Hockey is finally back! The puck officially dropped for the NHL season last night, but the Blackhawks open their 2018-2019 campaign tonight when they visit the Ottawa Senators. After missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade last season, this year’s team will have many questions to answer if they want to return to postseason play. Here is the roster they will begin the season with:

Blackhawks 2018-2019 Roster

Goaltender Corey Crawford will start the year on injured reserve along with defensemen Gustav Forsling and Connor Murphy.

The biggest concern remains the status of Corey Crawford. While he was dealing with concussion symptoms for the better part of nine months, the team provided infrequent and vague updates. However, there have been some encouraging recent developments regarding the former all-star netminder. He has practiced with the team for the past three days, and head coach Joel Quenneville even hinted at a possible return date for the Hawks netminder.

This statement should be taken with a grain of salt because it would be the “perfect scenario” for a potential return barring any bumps in the road. Even if Crawford doesn’t end up playing on that exact date, the news brings hope to Blackhawks fans who thought he might be out of action until late-November or early-December.

If number 50 is back between the pipes sooner rather than later, the Blackhawks will have a much better chance at competing for a playoff spot. He posted a .929 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average with a record of 16-9-2 before sustaining a concussion last December. Until he returns, veteran Cam Ward will be the number one goaltender with Anton Forsberg filling the backup role.

There are still a number of issues surrounding the Blackhawks beyond Corey Crawford. How will a shallow defense corps perform against elite competition? Can a top-heavy forward group carry the offense? Will Brandon Saad have a bounce-back season?

The defense was a major issue for the Hawks last season, and it looks to be the same story this year. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will be mainstays once again, but the rest of the group on the back end will have to step up for the Hawks to keep the puck out of the back of their net.

Injuries to Gustav Forsling (wrist, out until mid-November) and Connor Murphy (back, out until early/mid-December) pose setbacks before the team even takes the ice. Those vacancies will be filled by Brandon Davidson, who made the team after performing well on a professional tryout contract in training camp, and offseason free-agent signing Brandon Manning. 19-year old Henri Jokiharju will join Erik Gustafsson and Jan Rutta to round out the remaining spots. Jokiharju plays an offensive-minded game, Manning is a stay-at-home bruiser, and Davidson brings a little bit of both. They will all need to force chip-ins, be responsible with zone exits, and make smart passes up the ice on a consistent basis for the Hawks to avoid end-to-end foot races this season.

Up front, the Blackhawks top two lines will do most of the scoring. Dominik Kahun, who showed flashes of playmaking ability in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament and preseason games, will flank Jonathan Toews opposite of Alex DeBrincat on the top line. After having a revolving door at that right wing spot last year, the Hawks are hoping Kahun will be able to get in sync with two of their most talented forwards. The second line is loaded with firepower, but all eyes will be on number 20.

Brandon Saad

When the Hawks reacquired Brandon Saad before the 2017-2018 season, they expected the power forward who posted three consecutive 50-point campaigns to maintain that level of production. After netting a hat-trick in his first game back donning the Indianhead, Saad underperformed. He finished with just 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) despite posting his second highest career Corsi-for percentage (56.7%). In training camp, he has been skating on a line with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane hoping to rejuvenate some of that offensive prowess he showed during the four seasons prior to last year. Puck possession should not be an issue for that line, but Saad must be willing to get to the front of the net and drive to the center of the ice for better scoring chances if he wants to appear on the stat sheet more frequently.

The bottom-six of the forward group will be thin this season. Artem Anisimov moves down on the depth chart to center David Kampf and veteran Chris Kunitz on the third line. Luke Johnson impressed the coaching staff enough to crack the opening night roster and center the fourth line between Marcus Kruger and Andreas Martinsen. John Hayden rounds out the roster and will likely rotate in frequently on the fourth line.

This group of forwards won’t dazzle many opponents in the offensive zone, but they may have an advantage at the faceoff dot. Wingers David Kampf and Marcus Kruger have both played extended stints at center during their time in the league, so Anisimov and Johnson can be more aggressive on draws without fear of their replacements losing the faceoff if they get kicked out.

Here are the projected lineups for opening night:

Forwards:
DeBrincat-Toews-Kahun
Saad-Schmaltz-Kane
Kunitz-Anisimov-Kampf
Kruger-Johnson-Martinsen

Defensemen:
Keith-Jokiharju
Manning-Seabrook
Gustafsson-Rutta

Goalie:
Cam Ward

Scratches:
John Hayden
Brandon Davidson

Power Play Unit One: Toews, Schmaltz, DeBrincat, Kane, Keith
Power Play Unit Two: Anisimov, Saad, Kahun, Gustafsson, Seabrook

The 2018-2019 season will be an uphill battle for the Blackhawks. Even if Corey Crawford comes back early in the season, there are still many hurdles to jump for this team to get back to playoff caliber. Win or lose, Blackhawks Nation will be here to bring you coverage. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to Four Feathers Podcast for weekly episodes brought to you by our bloggers.

Here is the complete Blackhawks 2018-2019 schedule:

Blackhawks 2018-2019 Schedule


Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports
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