Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton looks on before a game against the Hurricanes.

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Zawaski: Assessing Hawks' Opening Night Roster

The biggest question is what role will Kirby Dach play when healthy?

Jay Zawaski
October 02, 2019 - 8:51 am
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(670 The Score) The Blackhawks on Tuesday afternoon revealed their opening night roster and shared a few notes about some injury designations as well. 

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Defenseman Connor Murphy (groin) and forward John Quenneville (right hip) will start the season on injured reserve. Rookie center Kirby Dach, who has battled a concussion since before the preseason began, will start the season with an injured/non-roster designation. Goaltender Colin Delia was sent to AHL Rockford.

Here’s the roster as it stands right now as the Blackhawks open the season against the Flyers in Prague, Czech Republic on Friday.

Forwards: Drake Caggiula, Ryan Carpenter, Alex DeBrincat, David Kampf, Patrick Kane, Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, Brendan Perlini, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Zack Smith, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews.

Defensemen: Calvin de Haan, Erik Gustafsson, Duncan Keith, Slater Koekkoek, Olli Maatta and Brent Seabrook.

Goaltenders: Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner.

There aren’t a lot of surprises on the roster.

Kubalik, whom I wrote about earlier this preseason, absolutely earned a spot and could find himself among the Hawks' top-six forwards group more often than not once the season gets rolling. Nylander, who was acquired from the Sabres this past summer in exchange for defensive prospect Henri Jokiharju, had an up-and-down training camp. His offensive skill is undeniable, but the knock has been his work ethic in the other two zones and a lack of consistent hustle. If Nylander can convince himself to give an honest effort every night, he could be a huge part of the team this season.

Seeing the forwards on paper, it’s noticeable how much tougher the Hawks got up front. The acquisitions of Shaw and Smith bring some much needed north-and-south play, leadership and the willingness to win a puck battle in the corners. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Kubalik is 6-foot-2 is also tough to knock off the puck.

The biggest question mark is the 18-year-old Dach, who would also add to the team’s size and strength up front. He has been practicing with the team for a week now and could be healthy enough to play when the Hawks host the Sharks in their home opener on Oct. 10. General manager Stan Bowman has talked openly about wanting to give Dach a good look at the NHL level but hasn’t definitively announced that Dach will be part of the team when healthy.

Is Dach on the trip for the experience and practice? The Hawks can play Dach up to nine games at the NHL level before sending him back to Saskatoon without any contract ramifications. If he plays 10 or more, they would burn the first year of his contract. I’m not sure what more he can learn in the Western Hockey League. Does dominating a junior league help him develop? Probably not. I’d rather he develop and make mistakes playing on the Blackhawks' third line this season. Unfortunately, the NHL/Canadian Hockey League agreement prohibits NHL teams from sending their draft picks to the AHL. Rockford would likely be the best-case scenario for Dach, but it’s not an option.

On defense, it’s nice to see de Haan ready to go for the opener. He had surgery on his shoulder this offseason and also battled a groin injury in training camp. He may be the Blackhawks' most dependable defender when it’s all said and done this season.

If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, Koekkoek will serve as the sixth defenseman until Murphy is ready to return. And based on the fact that the Hawks only have six defensemen on their opening night roster, it’s safe to assume he’s close.

The Hawks did lose depth defenseman Carl Dahlstrom off waivers to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. The Jets -- who are thin on defense after the trade of Jacob Trouba, the indecision of Dustin Byfuglien and the loss of free agents Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot -- are rolling the dice on the former Hawk, who could be part of their plans right away.

Dahlstrom appeared in 38 games with the Hawks last season, recording six assists. His 46.1 percent Corsi rating wasn’t great, but he did start 62.3 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone.

With the roster set, all that remains is dropping the puck on the regular season. Make a note: Puck drop is Friday at 1 p.m. Chicago time.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to noon, a columnist for 670 The Score and the co-host of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your preferred podcast app. He's also the host of Locked on Blackhawks and the I'm Fat Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​​