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Blackhawks confident new faces will yield another run

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams.

CHICAGO -- Space has been created in the rafters at United Center to hang another Stanley Cup championship banner, but the Chicago Blackhawks are already planning their next title run.

They will have new faces filling some key roles after yet another offseason of significant roster reshuffling, but most of the core group that has won the Cup three times in the past six seasons returns.

The coaching staff, again led by Joel Quenneville, also returns intact to lead a group that's expecting an early-season energy boost from some new players.

"The feelings that you get after you win is something that you want to do again and you want to keep repeating," said Corey Crawford, who's been the No. 1 goalie for Chicago's past two championships. "It definitely feels great be a champion, but now it doesn't mean anything anymore. We've got to build towards another one."

FORWARDS

Most teams couldn't lose the amount of talent Chicago did in the offseason. The Blackhawks, however, aren't like most teams; they've been through this before and kept winning.

The Blackhawks no longer have Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg, but they do have a group of forwards led by captain Jonathan Toews, right wing Patrick Kane, right wing Marian Hossa and center Artem Anisimov.

They have skilled forward Teuvo Teravainen, and highly touted newcomers Marko Dano and Artemi Panarin. A solid group of veteran forwards will help fill out the third and fourth lines.

"I think there's plenty of talent," Hossa, 36, said. "We lost so many key members of our team from the last year, but on the plus side, we've got lots of great young players coming in to give us lots of enthusiasm and energy, which could be our motor."

The new players have big roles to fill.

Saad, Sharp and Richards finished the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning playing on the Blackhawks' top two lines; Vermette and Versteeg made up two-thirds of an effective third line.

Dano has the inside track at Saad's former spot with Toews and Hossa. Acquired with Anisimov in the trade that sent Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dano has impressed. Quenneville said the 20-year-old hit the lottery with that first-line spot, sparking the nickname "The Lottery Line," but his play so far is worthy of top minutes.

Hopes are also high for Teravainen and Panarin, who hasn't played in a preseason game because of an upper-body injury. Each draws comparisons in his playing style to Kane and could fill a top-six roles at some point. The third and fourth lines will be filled by Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Ryan Garbutt.

"We've still got a good core group, and the guys we got in [trades] are great players as well," Shaw said. "Hopefully, they learn from us as much as we learn from them. I think that will help us through this stretch. They've got a lot of energy coming into this season, and we've got to feed off that as well."

DEFENSEMEN

The Blackhawks proved during their latest title run that a Stanley Cup can be won while leaning heavily on four defensemen.

They played their top four almost 90 percent of the time in the final two playoff series last season, and it paid off. They know that can't continue during a full season.

"I'm never going to complain about ice time, but I don't think we want to have to [lean on four players]," said Niklas Hjalmarsson, one of Chicago's top defensemen. "We have a lot of depth here, so I don't think we're going to have that problem."

The challenge got even tougher in the offseason, when veteran Johnny Oduya signed with the Dallas Stars. That happened after Chicago traded former top defense prospect Stephen Johns to Dallas in the Sharp trade, which returned Garbutt and veteran defenseman Trevor Daley.

Daley will get the first crack at Oduya's former spot on the second pairing. Daley should bring some added offensive punch after he had career highs in goals (16), assists (22) and points (38) last season.

The third pairing is where things need to be shored up most. Among those vying for roles are Trevor van Riemsdyk, David Rundblad and Michal Rozsival, the 37-year-old veteran who signed a one-year contract for a reported $600,000 plus potential bonus money early into training camp.

Rozsival is still adding strength back in his left ankle, which he fractured in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round last season. Quenneville said he's doubtful to start the season and will likely land on long-term injured reserve.

That would clear a roster spot that could be filled by 28-year-old Kyle Cumiskey or Erik Gustafsson, a 23-year-old rookie signed out of the Swedish Hockey League on April 30.

GOALIES

Goaltending should be one of the Blackhawks' biggest strengths.

Crawford, who had a 2.27 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 57 games last season, earned a share of the William M. Jennings Trophy for the second time in the past three seasons in 2014-15.

Backup Scott Darling had a 1.95 GAA and .936 save percentage in 14 regular-season games, and started four games in the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators.

Darling and Crawford each takes up a lot of space, moves fluidly, plays angles well, and, perhaps most importantly, pushes the other to stay sharp.

"You never want to get complacent," Crawford said. "You're always looking for more. That's what we try to do with each other, push each other to get better."

SPECIAL TEAMS

The collection of highly skilled players the Blackhawks use on the power play should produce more goals than it usually does, but it usually doesn't.

Last season, Chicago converted 17.6 percent of its power-play chances in the regular season (20th in the NHL) and 17.9 percent of its chances in the postseason.

The Blackhawks also struggled while shorthanded for the final segment of the regular season and into the first round, but things turned around in their final three series. Still, Chicago finished with a lower penalty-kill success rate in the playoffs (79 percent, 10th among playoff qualifiers) than the regular season (83.4 percent, 10th in the NHL).

COACHES

Quenneville has guided the Blackhawks to their three Cup wins in six seasons. Despite already being a legend in the Windy City, Quenneville isn't content.

"When we look at it, I think we'll have a very exciting team," Quenneville said. "I think we'll be fast, I think we'll be competitive with a great core that leads the charge, but we can't think of winning the Cup. We've got to make sure our thought process is to get off to a strong start and look to try and make the playoffs, because I know how good and tough our division and conference [will be]. It's going to be a great achievement making the playoffs. Sounds simple, but it's not going to be easy."

Quenneville has his entire coaching staff back. Kevin Dineen and Mike Kitchen return to the bench, and Jimmy Waite returns as goaltending coach.

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