By Adam Hess
With the Chicago Blackhawks season set to begin on Wednesday night at the United Center, when the Hawks will welcome Central Division rival St. Louis to the Windy City, all eyes now turn from the preseason and which players have a shot at making the team to the team before them.
The 2016-17 edition of the Blackhawks will feature more new faces than years past, presenting a lot of intrigue. Young players like Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte, and Gustav Forsling are extremely talented and put on very impressive performances in the preseason, which is why they are here in the first place. However, the question remains if their skills will translate to regular season NHL play.
Another major question mark for the Hawks this year will be the play of Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, and if these two elite NHL forwards can put on similar displays to their 2015-16 campaigns. Kane led the league in points en route to being named league MVP, while Panarin finished 9th in points and was named Rookie of the Year.
Playing at the same high level this season could prove to be a difficult task for these players, despite their elite talent level. As fans, expecting these two to be at the same level as last season is certainly setting the bar too high. If you expect 180 points between these two again this season, you’re doomed to be disappointed. However, they are still likely to be the Hawks two best forwards yet again this year, so a repeat of last year is not out of the question.
Meanwhile, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook are two veterans who are in major need of a bounceback season after they posted largely disappointing seasons in 2015-16. Seabrook found the scoresheet quite a bit, but his overall play fell off in a major way last year. Hossa shot at a career low percentage en route to just 14 goals. These two fan favorites are definitely due to rebound, and if they can do that, the Hawks will be much better off.
Even with the talent the Blackhawks have on their roster, they’re still firmly the third best team in the Central Division behind Nashville and Dallas. If those two teams can overcome questionable goaltending, they should have no problem controlling the division.
Season prediction: The Blackhawks will finish third in the Central Division this year with 98 points. After eliminating second-place Dallas in six games in the first round, they will ultimately bow out to Nashville in the second round after a seven-game series. The Predators will go on to defeat the Washington Capitals for the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks open their season tonight at home against the St. Louis Blue, 7 p.m. on NBC Sports.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @_adamhess.