After one of the most eventful offseasons in recent memory, the Chicago Blackhawks have four questions that they will have to answer this season.
As our 2020-21 NHL Season Previews continue, we now get a chance to take a look at one of the most historic and popular franchises in the entire NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks were a roller coaster of a team during the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season. The year featured some highs, but also had some lows. One of the highlights of this past season was Chicago’s return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since getting swept by the Nashville Predators in 2017.
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Even though it looked like the Hawks would not qualify for the postseason prior to the ongoing pandemic, they were fortunate enough to be in a position to make the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. During the Play-In Round, Chicago surprised many fans around the league and was able to take down a high-flying Edmonton Oilers squad to punch their ticket to the postseason.
As expected, the Hawks fell to the cup-contending Vegas Golden Knights in five games during the First Round of the playoffs. Although their time in the postseason was short, many of Chicago’s youngsters gained valuable Playoff experience. Chicago had the youngest average age (25.6) out of any team to qualify for the postseason. Rookies Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik played outstanding hockey down the stretch, and look to be building blocks that Chicago desperately needs to retool.
Just as last season looked to be a sign in the right direction for the franchise, though, it all came crashing down this offseason.
In a shocking move, the team announced that they would be moving on from longtime franchise goaltender Corey Crawford. By choosing to not re-sign the two-time Stanley Cup netminder, they announced they would be committing to youth in between the pipes for this upcoming season. The trio of Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, and Kevin Lankinen only have a combined 84 games played in the league, therefore making the goaltender position a complete question mark for the time being.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) January 5, 2021
Chicago also chose to move on from forward Brandon Saad, who also had been a major part of their two most recent Stanley Cup titles. They chose to ship out the 28-year-old winger and defenseman Dennis Gilbert to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm.
Some other minor transactions included re-signing the rookie sensation Kubalik ($3.7 million), Subban ($850,000), and Dylan Strome ($3 million).
Just in the past month alone, many frustrating circumstances have come to fruition for the Blackhawks. The team announced that Alexander Nylander would undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus that he suffered during the Playoffs. His estimated return is four to six months, which is essentially the entire season.
Not even two weeks later, young stud Kirby Dach was injured in an exhibition matchup the night before the start of the World Junior Championships. Dach suffered a broken wrist and elected to undergo surgery. His timetable for returning to hockey-related activities is four to five months.
Lastly, the team announced that captain Jonathan Toews would not join the team before the start of Training Camp. According to the team, Captain Serious has been suffering from an unknown medical issue that has caused him to feel drained and lethargic. It is currently unknown when the franchise center will return to action.
So after all of these events, here are four questions that the Chicago Blackhawks will have to answer in the 2020-21 NHL season…
4. Will Ian Mitchell make the Blackhawks roster?
Prior to the beginning of last season, Ian Mitchell looked to be ready to make the jump to the NHL. Instead, he shocked everyone when he announced that he would return to the University of Denver for his junior season.
Mitchell saw this as one last opportunity to make a run at a collegiate championship, while also captaining the nationally-ranked Pioneers. Unfortunately, his quest to win that National Title was taken away from the youngster when the pandemic hit.
Shortly after it was announced that the NCAA playoffs would be cancelled, Ian chose to finally sign his Entry-Level Contract with the Blackhawks in April.
Many fans and the Blackhawks organization themselves have been anxious for Mitchell to transition to the professional level. He was assigned the #51 by the Hawks, a number that many fans in Chicago are used to seeing on the blue line from Brian Campbell‘s tenures in the Windy City.
Ian Mitchell skating pic.twitter.com/hCCPUKOAJR
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) January 8, 2021
Chicago General Manager Stan Bowman has gone on numerous podcasts this offseason and stated that in terms of development, Mitchell was equal to or even ahead of fellow defenseman Adam Boqvist. This is a good sign for the Blackhawks considering Boqvist spent the whole entire season in the NHL last year and displayed some flashes of talent.
Mitchell was a Second-Round Draft selection (57th Overall) by the Blackhawks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He looks to be a solid all-around defenseman for the Hawks in the future. The only roadblock that could hinder Mitchell is the slew of defensemen that Chicago already has.
So far in training camp, things have looked promising for the 21-year-old. He has been paired alongside NHL veteran Calvin De Haan for the majority of the time, which could be a sign that he could start the season on the Hawks’ third defensive pairing on opening night.