Chicago Blackhawks

Looking to make the leap: Artemi Panarin

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Artemi Panarin was never drafted by an NHL club, and has never played a professional game in North America.

Yet heading into next season, there are expectations for him to be a key contributor… for the defending Stanley Cup champs.

“The real excitement is Panarin,” Chicago GM Stan Bowman said last month, per the Tribune. “He has tons of talent. We’re trying to be patient with the expectations because he’s coming to a new country, learning the language. … There’s going to be a bit of an adjustment there, but he has special ability.”

Panarin, 23, first burst onto the scene at the 2011 World Juniors, when he scored two goals — including the game-winner — in Russia’s memorable gold medal-game comeback (the Russians trailed Canada 3-0 heading into the third period, but went on to win 5-3).

From there, he turned into one of the KHL’s most dynamic scorers, finishing fifth in the league in points last year (62 in 54 games) while potting another 20 in 20 playoff games for eventual Gagarin Cup champs SKA Saint Petersburg.

Not to be outdone, Panarin starred at World Hockey Championships this past spring, scoring 10 points in 10 playoff games to help Russia win silver.

“All the Blackhawks fans are going to absolutely love him, just love watching him,” Viktor Tikhonov, who also made the jump from SKA to the ‘Hawks, told CSN Chicago this summer. “He’s always wanted to come over; he just didn’t know if he was ready.

“And just seeing him and how fast he’s developing, he was one of the best players in the KHL this year. It was the right move for him to make the jump.”

Panarin’s leap will be difficult, however.

He’s not overly big — 5-foot-11, 170 pounds — and, as the ‘Hawks learned last year, simply plunking someone into the lineup doesn’t always yield immediate results. Teuvo Teravainen, the club’s ballyhooed Finnish prospect, struggled to find his niche with the group and spent nearly half the regular season with AHL Rockford.

On that note, it’s worth mentioning that Panarin reportedly has an out clause in his contract, which allows a return to the KHL should he not make the Chicago roster.

That means he’s looking to make the leap — but has a pretty comfy landing spot, should he fall short.

Blackhawks ’15-16 Outlook

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Despite the plethora of changes made to their roster this summer, the Chicago Blackhawks should once again be contenders in this season. Immediately following their third Stanley Cup victory in six years, oddsmakers chose Chicago as the favorite to win the cup again.

Chicago’s success this season will depend on how newcomers fair. The Blackhawks lost four key pieces of their team in the offseason with Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Brad Richards all finding new homes.

Salary cap constraints will force the Blackhawks to rely on younger players such as Teuvo Teravainen this season. The 20-year-old appeared in 34 games with the ‘Hawks last season, scoring four goals and nine points.

Artem Anisimov, acquired in the Saad deal, will likely slot in behind Jonathan Toews as the ‘Hawks second line center. Newcomers Ryan Garbutt and Marko Dano will also fill holes in the Blackhawks roster this season.

Rookies Kyle Baun, Ryan Hartman and Artemi Panarin could also challenge for roster spots.

“I think change is good, and I think we’ve embraced that in the past and been able to bring in some players that now are household names … but at one point they were new,” GM Stan Bowman told NHL.com. “It’s going to be the same thing for some of the new guys that are part of this group next year. They might be new to the fans and media, but as you’ll see in time, I think we’re really going to fall in love with some of these guys.”

Chicago will also have new regulars on the blue line with the likes of Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad vying for roster spots behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor Daley. Erik Gustafsson and Ville Pokka will also battle for spots on the back end.

In goal, Corey Crawford is the clear cut No. 1 while Scott Darling beat out Antti Raanta for the backup role. Raanta was dealt to the New York Rangers during the offseason.

One wild card for the Blackhawks is, of course, Patrick Kane. The 26-year-old is currently the subject of a police investigation. Kane would’ve challenged for the scoring title last season, if a shoulder injury hadn’t forced him to miss the final 21 games of the regular season.

Chicago will once again be a threat in the Western Conference, but how deep they go will depend on how well the newcomers fit.

It’s Chicago Blackhawks day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in June.

Defenseman Duncan Keith, who recorded 21 points in 23 playoff games while averaging over 31 minutes a night in ice time, was the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

After missing the final 21 regular season games due to a broken left clavicle, Patrick Kane returned for the playoffs and finished with a team-leading 11 goals and 23 points.

Despite a slow start to the postseason, Corey Crawford finished with a 13-6 record in 20 appearances while posting a 1.46 G.A.A. and a .924 save percentage.

Chicago finished the regular season with a 48-28-6 record – good for the third seed in the Central Division.

Jonathan Toews led the Blackhawks in scoring with 28 goals and 65 points in 81 games. Despite playing in just 61 games, Kane was right behind Toews in team scoring with 27 goals and 64 points.

Off-season recap

Following the cup win Toews admitted the 2015 win felt a lot like 2010. With new contracts for Toews and Kane set to kick in, and the Blackhawks up against the salary cap, GM Stan Bowman was forced to trade away key pieces.

To get things started, Bowman dealt Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a seven-player trade. Chicago received Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a 2016 fourth round pick in return.

Brad Richards left for Detroit signing a one-year, $3 million deal.

Then Bowman dealt Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars along with Stephen Johns in exchange for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt.

Five days later, Johnny Oduya joined Sharp in Dallas signing a two-year, $7.5 million deal.

Antoine Vermette returned to Arizona signing a two-year contract with the Coyotes.

Chicago also dealt goaltender Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers for Ryan Haggerty.

There are still question marks surrounding the Blackhawks’ roster as training camp gets set to open next month. Kane’s situation remains uncertain, as he is the subject of a police investigation.

Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom remain restricted free agents while Dan Carcillo is pondering retirement, as he remains unsigned.

Under Pressure: Brandon Saad

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Brandon Saad has won the Stanley Cup twice and he deserves recognition for his role in that, but when he was in Chicago, he wasn’t the player people expected to step up when it mattered most. He was a valuable forward for the Blackhawks, but not one of the team’s biggest stars.

Columbus is a decidedly different situation for him. The Blue Jackets provided Chicago with a significant package to get Saad and made a serious commitment by inking him to a six-year, $36 million contract. His $6 million annual cap hit will place him second on the team next season, behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Even factoring in the two titles he’s been involved in, it seems fair to say that he’s getting paid based on potential rather than past accomplishments. His 23 goals and 52 points in 82 contests last season, taken by itself, wouldn’t typically warrant that kind of payday. That’s especially true when you remember that his most common five-on-five linemates by a wide margin last season were Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, per Hockey Analysis, so while playing alongside Ryan Johansen will be a luxury, it’s not as if he wasn’t sharing the ice with highly skilled forwards already.

Of course, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a 22-year-old forward (23 in October) still has some untapped upside and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue to improve and become a player that looks more than worthy of that contract. But for the first time in his life, someone has bet tens of millions of dollars on the idea that will happen and a city is putting their faith in him being a player that can lead the charge.

It’s a big opportunity for him and if he lives up to expectations, then there could be quite a few more serious playoff runs in his future.

PHT Morning Skate: Patrick Kane’s former junior squad pulls his name from training camp team

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

The OHL’s London Knights had planned to honor Patrick Kane by naming one of their four training camp groups after him, but GM Basil McRae announced that there will no longer be a Team Kane. The former Knights player is reportedly facing rape allegations. The police confirmed they are investigating an incident that allegedly occurred at Kane’s residence. (London Free Press)

Quebec City has reached the third phase of the NHL expansion process, but this still might not end up going Quebecor’s way. (Sportsnet)

Allan Muir created a hockey version of the Seven Wonders of the World. (Sports Illustrated)

With the start of training camp around the corner, what the Winnipeg Jets should do with Dustin Byfuglien is still up for debate. (Winnipeg Sun)

Wayne Simmonds is optimistic about the Philadelphia Flyers going into the 2015-16 campaign, but he feels they have to “work out our inconsistencies.” (Yahoo)

The University of Alberta’s hockey team will play against the Edmonton Oilers’ rookies, including Connor McDavid, on Sept. 16. (Edmonton Sun)