Are the Chicago Blackhawks Playoff contenders or pretenders?

Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Are the Chicago Blackhawks a legit postseason team or just a mirage that will soon disappear?

We’re now over a quarter of the way into the 2020-21 NHL season and it cannot be ignored that the Chicago Blackhawks have caught the league’s attention as they have been able to compete in every matchup this season, despite the organization taking a full-team rebuild approach in the offseason.

The Chicago Blackhawks may be one of the youngest teams in the NHL with an average age of 25.7 and may not have the same amount of sexy names as the organization once had, but that has yet to stop this team from competing in a highly contested Central Division as they are currently sitting in fourth place in the Central Division with 24 points, boasting a 10-6-4 record.

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When the organization hired 36-year old Jeremy Colliton as the new Head Coach replacement for Joel Quenneville, the Chicago Blackhawks wanted an infusion of youth, and it started with having the youngest Head Coach in the NHL. What Colliton has brought to the table for the Blackhawks is the new-school style of hockey featuring speed and aggressiveness on the puck. He demands a level of responsibility and accountability from each player on the roster every night and it leads to hard-fought victories.

At the time it was revealed that Chicago would be without captain Jonathan Toews, as well as forwards Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander for an extended time frame, the outlook for the team was grim, to say the least, considering the team didn’t even know who their starting netminder was going to be on opening night.

However, through trial and error, the Hawks have uncovered a gem at the position that could potentially solve their goaltender worries for a while in Kevin Lankinen, who currently leads the race for the Calder Memorial Trophy in the NHL.

Additionally, the Chicago Blackhawks landed yet another potential European star in 24-year old rookie forward Pius Suter who is also in contention for Rookie of the Year, as he is tied for fourth on the team in points (11) in 20-games played.

Other notable players taking a big step for the team include Alex DeBrincat, who is really coming into his own, and second-year forward Dominik Kubalik, who was their European phenom a year ago. While there are many more young players who deserve their credit for the team’s performance, it can be sufficiently summed up by saying that this team can compete with the best without having to be the best.

Are the Chicago Blackhawks legitimate playoff contenders or pretenders?

This answer relies upon three significant factors. For starters, while the team does not have a deep pool of elite skill, they currently have one of the most productive players in the NHL in Patrick Kane, who has aged like a fine wine over the years.

In 20 games played, Kane has tallied 9 goals and 21 assists, leading the team with 30 points, and is tied for fourth in the league in said category. As great as he’s been, it’s not hard to imagine the drop-off in the scoring department without him on the roster. If the Hawks are to sustain their rise to power in the Central, they’ll need players like Dylan Strome and others to support the team in the scoring department.

Secondly, the Chicago Blackhawks’ current squad has generally remained unscathed regarding significant injuries and COVID-19 delays. To maintain their buzz, the Hawks need to keep this group of skaters intact to maintain the chemistry along the lines. On that note, there’s one player on the current roster that the team simply could not afford to lose, and that’s veteran defenseman, Duncan Keith.

At 37-years old, the feral beast with luscious locks has been playing out of his mind. He may not be lighting up the scoresheet like Cale Makar, but he’s always making key plays in pivotal moments, especially on the rush and in the neutral zone. Apart from Kane, Duncan Keith has been one of the most reliable and effective players on the roster. If he can maintain this workload, they’ll remain in good shape for a playoff push.

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And last, but certainly not least, there’s the aforementioned gem goaltender Kevin Lankinen who has emerged from the shadows as a true starting netminder in the NHL as a rookie. The 25-year old Finnish goalie has shown tremendous poise and potential in games as he’s produced an 8-3-3 starting record, 2.59 GAA, and .921 SV% in many games where the Hawks have had no business being in. Goaltending in the NHL is one of the most unpredictable facets of the game, but if Lankinen truly is the hero that this organization has been thirsting for in the blue paint, there’s no doubt that the Chicago Blackhawks can transition from a full-team rebuild to one similar to the New York Rangers.