For the next 31 days, the Hockey Writers at Full Press Coverage explore the strengths and weaknesses of NHL teams entering the 2018-19 season. We lead off with the Central Division.
The Chicago Blackhawks (33-39-10) missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008. Recording only 76 team points last year, the Blackhawks finished 41 points behind Central Division champion Nashville and 19 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. A significant rebound is needed.
The Hawks had a busy off-season, acquiring a multitude of forwards to give punch to what was an anemic offense last year.
Additions: Michael Chaput- F (Vancouver Canucks); Jordan Schroeder- F (Columbus Blue Jackets); Chris Kunitz- F (free agency); Cam Ward- G (free agency); Brandon Manning- D (free agency); Adam Boqvist- D (first round draft pick); Andrew Campbell- D (Arizona Coyotes); Marcus Kruger- F (Arizona Coyotes), MacKenzie Entwistle- F (Arizona Coyotes); Jordan Maletta- F (Arizona Coyotes).
Subtractions: Marian Hossa- F (Arizona) Coyotes; Vinnie Hinostroza- F (Arizona Coyotes); Jordan Oesterle- D (Arizona Coyotes); Jean-Francois Berube- G (Columbus Blue Jackets); Tanner Kero- F (Vancouver Canucks).
Patrick Kane led the Chicago Blackhawks offense with 76 points. Kane turns 30 during this season, and the team needs Kane at his best this year.
Rookie Forward Alex DeBrincat had an impressive year for the Hawks last year. The 20-year-old scored 52 points on 28 goals and 24 assists. DeBrincat should undoubtedly contribute more this year.
What to Expect:
Chicago has a lot of question marks going into the season. The absence of goaltender Corey Crawford—he only played in 28 games—hurt the Hawks significantly last year, and they couldn’t rely on any backup consistently. Signing veteran Cam Ward helps, but if Crawford misses playing time, the Hawks are in trouble.
Gritty Chris Kunitz was an excellent addition. Kunitz, 38, scored 13 goals last year, more than half of the Hawks entire team. Given how only seven players on the Hawks scored 10 or more goals, Kunitz will have an immediate impact if he still has zip in his legs. Center Schroeder, 27, is a former first-round pick (22nd overall in 2009 by Vancouver), a player the Hawks hope will finally find a permanent NHL home.
The Hawks need two things to succeed this year: Generate more offense and keep Crawford healthy.
Coming Wednesday: Minnesota Wild Preview
Chicago Blackhawks website: https://www.nhl.com/blackhawks
Cover Photo Credit: USA Today Sports
—Jack Woods covers the Nashville Predators and the Central Division for Fullpresscoverage.com. You can follow Jack on Twitter @jack_woods15.