Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Chicago Blackhawks
For the last 15 years (12 with The Hockey News, last year’s via pinch-hitter Cam Robinson) Dobber has reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them.
The 16th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey throughout the summer. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Impact of changes – The Blackhawks are handcuffed by the salary cap. This is the price of success and winning Stanley Cups while trying to keep the core together. The core ends up deserving massive contracts and to have $33 million tied up in four players or $55 million tied up in eight players makes it hard to stay flexible. So when that core starts to age or break down, you’re forced to pay off other teams so that they take some of your salary from you. You saw Chicago do this a couple of years ago with Carolina when they gave the Hurricanes Teuvo Teravainen in exchange for taking Brian Bickell and his hefty salary off their hands. GM Stan Bowman was forced to do it again this summer when he gave up a promising dark horse in Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for Arizona taking Marian Hossa’s salary.
What all this means is that it has left Chicago without much in the way of depth. And even shedding Hossa’s salary barely clears enough to afford filling out the rest of the roster on the cheap. Translate that into fantasy hockey language and it means – opportunity. Several prospects that would possibly not make one of the other 30 rosters could and should make this one. And in a prominent role, too.
Ready for full-time – Dylan Sikura is the prized prospect forward in Chicago’s system. He’s a left winger who started for Northeastern and then made the jump directly into the NHL, tallying three assists in five games. Because the team lacks depth and is desperate need of scoring forwards, he could find himself on the Patrick Kane –Nick Schmaltz line right away. Sikura could be a Top 10 rookie scorer this year. (See Sikura's scouting profile here)
Matthew Highmore was signed as a free agent after dominating the QMJHL in 2016-17 as an over-ager. Normally I don’t give those players much attention because 21 year olds will almost always dominate a junior league. That’s why most will just turn pro. But Highmore transitioned well to the AHL, posting 24 goals and 43 points in just 64 games for Rockford and got into 13 games with Chicago late in the season He likely doesn’t have scoring-line upside, but could become a serviceable third liner who chips in points. (See Highmore's scouting profile here)
Centerman Dominik Kahun was impressive for Team Germany at the Olympics and after he completed his season in the German League (41 points in 42 games), the Blackhawks signed him as a free agent. He’s a smaller player at 5-9 and the team already has Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat in the role of small, skilled scoring forward. Could Kahun impress enough to stick anyway? As I already noted, the Blackhawks are desperate. Smurf Line, anyone? (See Kahun's scouting profile here)
Defenseman Erik Gustafsson had a great start in the AHL and he was so good after Chicago called him up that they promptly signed him to a two-year contract extension. At the age of 26, the 2012 fourth rounder (93rd overall) is finally ready. Gustafsson tallied 16 points in 35 games and saw some power-play time. He was also a shots machine, wiring over two shots per game to lead all defensemen on the team not named Duncan Keith. A solid dark horse. (See Gustafsson's scouting profile here)
Henri Jokiharju is the organization’s prized prospect on defense. But he’s only just turned 19. Last year’s 29th overall pick was one of the youngest in his draft class so chances are he will get another year of seasoning in. But I think we’ll see a couple of games as a trial run. Jokiharju tallied 71 points in 63 games for Portland of the WHL. (See Jokiharju's scouting profile here)
Chicago Blackhawks prospect depth chart and fantasy upsides can be found here (not yet ready for mobile viewing, desktop only right now)
Fantasy Outlook – This is a team on decline. The studs of years past are no longer studs, with the exception of Kane. DeBrincat looks to soon join the “stud” fraternity and so will Schmaltz. But the Blackhawks will need Sikura to make a splash the way DeBrincat did and they need a defenseman to emerge. As things stand now, none of their blueliners will get 40 points. And the situation in net isn’t exactly rock solid either. Corey Crawford’s injury status is still up in the air, no matter what you hear from the organization, and Cam Ward is hardly a top replacement for him. There is some help in the prospect pipeline – Jokiharju will be a stud in a couple of years. But not enough to turn this ship around just yet.
Fantasy Grade: C (last year was B)
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