The Chicago Blackhawks will be three years removed from their Stanley Cup run when they enter this season and are looking at some of its homegrown talent to help them make it back to the finals.
In the offseason maybe it was because of the threat of a lockout, but Chicago made very few moves in the free agent market, actually only one to be exact, in defenseman Sheldon Brookbank from the Anaheim Ducks.
For 2012-13 they will be looking for some of their prospects like left winger Brandon Saad, left winger Brandon Bollig, defenseman Dylan Olsen and left winger Jeremy Morin to get time in the big leagues as they released some older players, like Sean O'Donnell and Brendan Morrison.
General Manager Stan Bowman is hoping that some of the young players that took a step last year will be taking a few more this year and that includes defenseman Nick Leddy and left winger Viktor Stalberg. The 20-year-old Leddy had his best season with three goals and 34 assists and he did not miss a game.
But in the end it might be as easy as looking at the goalie net.
After being handed the starting nod in goal last season, Corey Crawford experienced a roller coaster season. Crawford was supposed to be the goalie of the future, but could not keep it.
While there was talk about the Blackhawks either trading for a veteran goalie (for instance, Roberto Luongo) or signing a free agent (Martin Brodeur), the team did neither and appears to be headed into the season with Crawford and backup (for now), Ray Emery.
The team currently does not have a goalie in the minors that could come up and take the job. One prospect, Alexander Salak, was released and Carter Hutton, who saw most of the time at Rockford of the AHL, does not appear to be a threat for a spot.
While Crawford deserves some of the blame, the Blackhawks' defense took a step back last year and was near the bottom in penalty killing (27th), and was also near the bottom in goals allowed (22nd).
Offensively, the team will at the very least stay the course, as they were the sixth highest scoring team in the NHL.
It might be a big year for one of its wonderkids in right winger Patrick Kane. Kane's production dropped slightly last year as his off-the-ice partying became more of a story than his ice activities.
In terms of right winger Marian Hossa, he had one of his healthiest seasons in several years and especially during his time with the Blackhawks. He unfortunately had his injury at the worst time, the playoffs, when he was clobbered by Coyotes Raffi Torres and suffered a season-ending concussion. His health during the regular season helped him lead Chicago with 77 points.
Hossa has worked his way back with all the reports saying that he will be good to go, but until he is skating, there is always a guarded feeling about this season.
Forward Patrick Sharp has become a consistent 66 to 71 points player the last three years and led the team in goals with 33. His 69 points last season was only behind Hossa in terms of points.
Center Jonathan Toews might be a good pick for a rebound season. He put up many of his worst numbers since his rookie year, 2007-08. He collected 57 points with the villain being assists with 28, the worst in his five-year career. It was the lowest number of games played at 59 as a concussion kept him out for a portion of the season.
One player who might be starting to break out is Stalberg, who had his best numbers in three NHL season with 22 goals and 21 assists with 43 points, the fifth best point total on the club and will turn 27 in January 2013.
THE BIG GUNS
Marian Hossa (RW): Can anyone get that image of Hossa, immobilzed on a stretcher, out of their head? Hossa's season -- and the Hawks' playoff hopes -- ended on the forearm of Phoenix's Raffi Torres. He says he's symptom-free and ready for camp, but we can't help but feel a bit queasy about him to start the season. Just look at how long Sidney Crosby was out. It's a real shame because he's coming off his most successful regular season (77 points) since 2006-07 where he scored 100. Draft him as though he'll miss 20 games and you'll probably be OK. Then his 60 points won't feel like a let-down.
Jonathan Toews (C): Toews will be looking to rebound this season after injuries hurt him during his 2011-12 campaign. A concussion limited him to just 59 games last year, but he was in the middle of a goal-scoring outburst when he went down and still finished the season with 29. We are a bit concerned by the concussions -- that wasn't his first. But there is no doubt that if he stays away from injuries, he rebound to his usual dominating self. And that's a guarantee of 30 goals, as many points as games, great plus-minus and power-play production.
Patrick Kane (RW): Last year was by far the most disappointing season for Kane in his five-year career. Not only did his on-ice production slip -- he only produced 23 goals and 43 assists, seven fewer points than in 2019-10 -- but his off-ice antics became an issue, too. Trade rumors continue to swirl, but the Hawks would be crazy to ship out a 24-year-old, point-per-game guy. Still, the 2012-13 season will be his most important one for the Hawks and he'll need to show the team he's more than just an impulsive frat boy. We think he'll feel like he has something to prove and that will bring him a 30-goal, 75-point season. And a major rebound on the power play.
ON THE RISE
Nick Leddy (D): Depending on who you ask, Leddy has been a disappointment or a success in his first two NHL seasons. But many forget that he only turned 21 last March and he still pulled off a three-goal, 34-assist season. Those 34 assists ranked him in the top 15 NHL defensemen. Expect him to continue to grow his game both offensively and defensively, and add another five or six points to last year's total.
Viktor Stalberg (LW): Stalberg is coming off a 22-goal, 43-point season -- both career highs -- and has the inside track on the second-line left wing gig in Chicago. He should also be good for 100 hits and 200 shots, and is finally becoming the power winger the Leafs' envisioned when they drafted him in 2006.
Marcus Kruger (C): Kruger's first full season was pretty impressive -- nine goals and 17 assists in 71 games -- for a 21-year-old rookie center from overseas with just seven previous NHL games under his belt. This elite playmaker has a high hockey IQ and great two-way skills, and he should take another step in his progress this year.
Brandon Pirri (C): Pirri will be looking to bring his scoring touch to the Blackhawks this season. He made a good showing for himself last season as he led Rockford of the AHL in scoring with 23 goals and 33 assists in 66 games. He saw some time with the Blackhawks last season (two assists in five games) and should see more time this season. Chicago did not add a lot of free agents in the offseason so it might open a spot on the fourth line for Pirri. And that would mean a 25-point season for this potential second-liner. Remember him name.
TWO TO AVOID
Corey Crawford (G): Despite the talk of the Blackhawks trading for a goalie or signing a top free-agent twine tender, Crawford heads into camp as the number one goalie ... just like last season. And like last season, he should come out of the blocks as the top dog. Last season was a see-saw for him as he and back-up Ray Emery both ran hot and cold, but in the end, Crawford ended up with 55 starts -- the exact same number as in 2010-11. Unfortunately, his GAA and save percentage both took spikes, so there's a risk his leash is a bit shorter if Ray Emery stays healthy and can get hot. If so, we could see the same see-saw between the two men again this year and that makes Crawford a big risk as your number one man.
Nicolas Hjalmarsson (D): Hjalmarsson was one of the top names that were supposed to be shipped out by the Blackhawks, but he was still on the roster when the summer ended. He is a shot-blocking specialist and was second on the team in that category with 142, behind only the great Brent Seabrook. He'll be a steady 15-18 point producer; don't draft for any more.
Brandon Saad (LW): Saad surprised last season by making the team out of camp ... especially since he was just 18 years old. His time with the big club only lasted two games, but he clearly made an impression -- the Hawks called him up for their postseason and he dressed for two playoff games after Marian Hossa went down with a concussion. In between the two stints with the Hawks, the 6-1, 208 lb left winger utterly dominated junior hockey (76 points in 44 games). It would not be a surprise this time if he starts the 2012-13 season with Chicago and sticks for the season. He'll have his ups and downs, but 35 points are definitely possible.
Teuvo Teravainen (F): What a steal for the Hawks. No one raised his draft stock more this season than the talented Teravainen whose pure skill ranks him alongside Nail Yakupov as the draft class' best. The knock on him is his size -- he's just 5-11 and about 160 lbs. But his elite vision, skill and offensive upside erase those concerns, and his flexibility to play both center and wing make him a potentially dangerous scoring forward. His fantasy potential is among the highest of the 2012 draft. He showed off his puck-handling ability at July's Prospect Camp and was considered the best player at the camp. Just don't expect to see him soon -- he was just four days removed from being eligible for the 2013 draft, so he has some developing to do.
Dylan Olsen (D): The Blackhawks' first-round pick (2009) got his first taste of the NHL last season. The physical crease clearer played 28 games and registered his first -- and so far only -- NHL point, an assist against Columbus. But points are not his strength -- you'll draft him for hits and blocked shots.