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The Chicago Blackhawks were the best team in the Western Conference during the 2016-17 regular season but unlike in years past, the postseason had no success.  The Blackhawks were demolished in the first round by the Predators leading them to make some radical offseason changes.  Out goes Artemi Panarin, back comes Brandon Saad.  Out goes Marian Hossa due to injury, back comes Patrick Sharp.  Out goes Niklas HjalmarssonConnor Murphy comes back in return.  Overall, I really don’t like the direction that Chicago is going as I discussed on this podcast.  Despite the fact that I think they could be in a battle this season just to make the playoffs, there’s still plenty of fantasy talents worth discussing.  Let’s take a look at what they’re working with:

FORWARDS

Elite Talent – Patrick Kane surely wasn’t going to repeat his incredible 2015-16 but last season did not disappoint.  Kane scored 34 goals and 55 assists with an elite shot rate.  He’s also been at least +8 in each of the past eight seasons making him a safe bet for good to great contributions in five categories while being passable in penalty minutes.  I currently have Kane 4th overall in my rankings and while I may drop him to fifth, he clearly belongs in the top five.

Must Draft – Jonathan Toews had a nice bounce back last season scoring 21 goals and 37 assists in 72 games.  I wrote the following in my Top 100, where Toews ranks 91st: You can also depend on him for a quality plus-minus.  My worry is that his quality of linemate continues to get worse and he already plays over 20 minutes per game.  Toews hasn’t been a great power play player in 7 years which also caps his upside.  If he repeats last season, this ranking is too low but I doubt that happens.”  And that’s me quoting me copying what Grey does!

After two seasons in Columbus, Saad returns to Chicago.  He was solid last season with 24 goals and 29 assists.  Saad turns 25 in October so his best hockey could be in front of him.  The question is how good can he be?  Perhaps he takes the better number of the past two seasons meaning 31 goals and 29 assists?  It could also be 24 goals and 22 assists.  I like Saad a lot in real life but in fantasy, the dreadful PIM and historically poor STP hurt his overall value.  Saad missed my top 100 overall but he’ll come up shortly in my top 150.

Streamer With Upside – Artem Anisimov scored 22 goals and added 23 assists in 64 games last season.  So why is he only a streamer?  One, his shot rate is downright pitiful for a forward.  Two, he shot 21% in 16-17.  Yeah, that’s not repeating itself.  Three, Arty has never been a great power play player.  He’ll have his streaks of being a hold but I wouldn’t draft him in 12’ers.

Patrick Sharp also returns to Chicago after two seasons away.  Like most of Dallas’ players, last season was a waste for Sharp.  Sharp was riddled with injuries finishing with 8 goals and 10 assists in 48 games.  The good news is that the shot rate remained over three per game and the penalty minutes are there.  Additionally, Sharp should start in the top 6 since Chicago lacks other options.  He’s going to be 36 in December so perhaps Sharp is simply done but I’m keeping an eye on him for streaming purposes.  Who knows, maybe he can put together a decent enough year that he becomes a hold mostly due to his shot rate.

There’s an outside chance Richard Panik can take another slight step forward which could be enough to make him a bottom end hold.  Panik finished with 22+22 last season with 58 PIM.  If that can get to at least 25+25, maybe slightly better, Panik would be worth holding.  I’m sure he’ll have his stretches, like the beginning of last season, that you ride Panik as a hot schmotato but there are other players I’m gambling on at the end of drafts instead.

If Sharp or Panik disappoints, I expect Ryan Hartman to move into the top six.  If that happens, I’ll be spec adding Hartman in most 12’ers.  Hartman scored 19 goals and 12 assists in 76 games as a rookie.  Most importantly, Hartman had 70 PIM, didn’t receive PP time (only 1 PPP) and had above two shots per game, a nice rate for a rookie.  There is some potential here and his value will strictly come down to his role.

DEFENSEMEN

Must Draft – Tons of assists, great plus-minus, solid shots, bad penalty minutes.  That’s Duncan Keith in a nutshell.  He’s incredibly safe but lacks the upside of a #1 fantasy defenseman.  My guess is that Keith comes in at the bottom of my top 150 as a middling #2D.  I don’t really have much else to say about him because we know what Keith is due to his consistency.

I honestly don’t want to draft anyone else on this blue line.  I’m sure that’s controversial to most because of Brent Seabrook but I’m staying away outside of specialty leagues (more on that later).  Sure, he had 36 assists last year, but he was negative in every other category besides plus-minus where he was +5.  I don’t see any realistic scenario where one of the other four projected defensemen becomes relevant in standard 12 man leagues.

GOALTENDING

Mostly because of the team in front of him, I’m down on Corey Crawford this year.  I think he’s been underrated for years but Crawford’s .918 save percentage returned a 2.55 GAA last season.  I am betting against that improving and if that’s the case, he drops out of the top two tiers of goalies because he’s never been a true workhorse.  Perhaps that changes this year now that they have a massive question mark as a backup goalie but Crawford also has an injury history.  I have him 64th overall as a bottom end #1 goalie which I’m sure means I won’t own him anywhere this year.

Anton Forsberg is the backup following the Scott Darling trade and boy, that might turn out really ugly.  Forsberg had the worst goaltending performance I’ve ever seen in an NHL game before for Columbus a few years ago.  While he’s had success in the AHL, in 10 career NHL games Forsberg has a 4.02/.879 line.  That downright loses you games.  I won’t be streaming him at all until he proves he can be competent at the NHL level.

HITS / BLOCKS / FACEOFF LEAGUES

Kane and Saad take a fairly big hit with awful hits and blocks.  Toews is below average as well but because he takes so many faceoffs at an above-average rate, I keep him around the same in my rankings.  Keith drops off because the hit total is laughably bad.  Seabrook gets a nice boost into #4D territory while Panik and Hartman move into elite streamer territory.

DYNASTIES

I’m likely to spend a late pick on Hartman in drafts that I can keep him for an extended period, whether that’s as a keeper in the draft slot you take him at or in a league where you keep a large number of players.  Saad gets a marginal boost while Keith takes a slight hit.

PROSPECTS

High Upside – I don’t think anyone in the Chicago farm system qualifies as a blue chip prospect but Alex DeBrincat is very close.  Sure, he’s only 5’7, but his offensive skill set is outstanding, notably his shot.  DeBrincat scored a whopping 65 goals and 62 assists in 63 games for the Erie Otters last season.  Now, he’ll join Rockford and I’m very interested to see how he adjusts to playing professional hockey.  It wouldn’t shock me at all if he turns into a top 100 fantasy player during the prime of his career.

Honestly, nobody else makes me excited.  Gustav Forsling is their second best prospect and should make the team this season.  I don’t see him being a valuable fantasy asset at any point unless his offensive game takes a huge step forward that is very unlikely.  Their first round pick this year, Henri Jokiharju, looks like he could become an excellent puck mover, but he’s a few years away.  Jokiharju had 48 points in 71 games in the WHL last season and I’ll be seeing if he can take another step forward in Portland this year.  If you forced into taking a Chicago prospect for whatever reason, I would have Jokiharju ahead of Forsling for fantasy purposes since he’s barely 18 years old.

That’s all for now guys.  My next post will be on the Minnesota Wild.  As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below.  Thanks for reading, take care!