The 2018-19 NHL season begins Oct. 3. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for all 31 teams. Today, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Coach: Jeremy Colliton (second season)
Last season: 36-34-12, sixth in Central Division
1. Be better defensively
The Blackhawks allowed 291 goals last season, second most in the NHL (Ottawa Senators, 301). You would have to go back nearly 30 years for when they allowed that many (294, 1989-90). They signed goalie Robin Lehner, who was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL last season with the New York Islanders, and traded for defensemen Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Calvin de Haan (Carolina Hurricanes). But it's going to take a team effort for the Blackhawks to improve dramatically in this area.
Video: Key additions could prove fruitful for the Blackhawks
2. The 1-2 punch in goal
Lehner signed a one-year contract July 1 to share the Chicago net with longtime starter Corey Crawford, who played 67 games the past two seasons because of concussions. Crawford was 14-18-5 with a 2.93 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 39 games last season. Lehner was 25-13-5 with a 2.13 GAA and .930 save percentage with New York. The Blackhawks now have two proven No. 1 goalies and should benefit from the upgrade at the position.
3. Building off strong finish
It took time for the Blackhawks to adjust to Colliton, who became coach after Joel Quenneville was fired Nov. 6. Once they did, they showed a lot of improvement. From Jan. 20 to the final day of the regular season, they were 20-10-3 and finished six points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
4. Keep filling the net
Can the Blackhawks match last season's offensive production? They were eighth in the NHL with 267 goals, and four of their top-six forwards had NHL career highs in points. Patrick Kane led the Blackhawks with 110 points (44 goals, 66 assists) in 81 games; Jonathan Toews was second with 81 points (35 goals, 46 assists) in 82 games; Alex DeBrincat was third with 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists) in 82 games; and Dylan Strome, acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in a trade for forward Nick Schmaltz on Nov. 25, was fifth with 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in 58 games.
Defenseman Erik Gustafsson was Chicago's fourth-leading scorer with an NHL career-high 60 points (17 goals, 43 assists) in 79 games.
Video: CHI@SJS: DeBrincat nets own rebound on the power play
5. Improving the penalty kill
This used to be an area of strength, but last season the Blackhawks allowed a League-high 63 power-play goals and were last in the NHL on the penalty kill (72.7 percent). De Haan will help on the kill, but Chicago needs a much better group effort.
Making the cut
Ryan Carpenter, Dylan Sikura and Alexander Nylander will be among those competing for an open spot or two at forward. Carpenter, who signed a three-year contract July 1, had 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 68 games for the Vegas Golden Knights last season. Sikura had eight assists in 33 games with the Blackhawks. Nylander, the No. 8 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on July 9 in a trade for defenseman Henri Jokiharju, had four points (two goals, two assists) in 12 games.
Kirby Dach, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is in concussion protocol. The 18-year-old could get a chance to make the team, but it will depend on how long he's out.
At defenseman, the Blackhawks return Gustafsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy and Slater Koekkoek. Maatta will be part of the top six. De Haan is out 2-3 weeks with a groin injury and recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but general manager Stan Bowman said he should be ready to start the season.
Most intriguing addition
Nylander is looking for a fresh start. The 21-year-old is highly skilled but was unable to secure a consistent roster spot with the Sabres; he had six points (three goals, three assists) in 19 NHL games the past three seasons. The Blackhawks have a lot of depth at forward, so Nylander is going to have to stand out in training camp to make the team.
Biggest potential surprise
Could defenseman Adam Boqvist, the No. 8 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, get some games with the Blackhawks? Chicago is deep at defenseman, so it may take an injury to open a spot; perhaps if de Haan isn't ready to start the season. Regardless, Bowman said the 19-year-old is ready for pro hockey, be it with the Blackhawks or with Rockford of the American Hockey League.
Video: Blackhawks draft D Adam Boqvist No. 8
Ready to break through
Forward Dominik Kubalik, who was acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 24, had 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 50 games with Ambri-Piotta of Switzerland's National League last season. There's a good chance the 24-year-old gets an opportunity on one of the top two forward lines, especially if the Blackhawks are trying to get more balanced scoring throughout the lineup.
Strome (average draft position: 155.6) remains undervalued after his breakout performance with the Blackhawks last season and has 70-point potential with elite wings DeBrincat and/or Kane for a full season. -- Pete Jensen
Dominik Kubalik -- Jonathan Toews -- Andrew Shaw
Alex DeBrincat -- Dylan Strome -- Patrick Kane
Brandon Saad -- David Kampf -- Brendan Perlini
Drake Caggiula -- Ryan Carpenter -- Zack Smith
Duncan Keith -- Erik Gustafsson
Calvin de Haan -- Brent Seabrook
Olli Maatta -- Connor Murphy
Photo Courtesy: Chase Agnello-Dean/Chicago Blackhawks