Blackhawks defensive prospect Adam Boqvist

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Zawaski: Most Intriguing Hawks Preseason Storylines

Will Adam Boqvist force a veteran out? Is Kirby Dach NHL-ready?

Jay Zawaski
September 11, 2019 - 2:08 pm

(670 The Score) Believe it or not, the Blackhawks' first preseason game is less than a week away, as they're on the road to face the Washington Capitals on Monday. While much of the Blackhawks' core remains intact, there are several interesting storylines to watch as the preseason unfolds.

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Let's break them down.

Is Dach NHL-ready?

When the Blackhawks drafted Kirby Dach with the No. 3 overall pick in June, he projected as one of the most NHL-ready players of the class. At 6-foot-4, 197 pounds, he certainly has NHL size. We’ve seen him dominate in prospects camp, and Dach had one really great (and one so-so) game in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament this week before leaving the contest with an injury Tuesday.

If there was a knock on the 18-year-old Dach coming into the draft, it was his consistency. He had long dry spells at times in juniors. A player picked third overall should be dominating all the time. This will be the question Dach needs to answer before the preseason wraps up. Can he hang consistently with the best players in the world?

His skill set and size suggest he's capable of fitting in right away. I've little doubt that Dach is one of the Blackhawks' top 12 forwards already, but for a team with so many bodies for so few spots, perhaps Chicago will decide to delay his arrival by a year. Either way, Dach’s preseason will be top story for me.

Will Boqvist force a veteran out?

With the acquisitions of Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in the offseason, the Blackhawks' top six defensemen have begun to take shape. Some combination of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Erik Gustafsson, Connor Murphy, Maatta and de Haan are the favorites for opening night.

Beyond them, Adam Boqvist -- the No. 8 pick in the 2018 draft -- has looked great, often like the best player on the ice in offseason events. He nearly forced the Hawks to put him on the team after his preseason performance last season, but they decided he’d be better off playing a season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Boqvist responded by posting 60 points in 54 games with the Knights.

The defensive aspect of being a defenseman will never be Boqvist’s strong suit. The Blackhawks know that, but if Boqvist shows he belongs, as I fully expect him to do, the team can’t hold him back another year. Will coach Jeremy Colliton have the nerve to put Seabrook or Maatta in the press box? I haven’t learned enough about Colliton’s level of loyalty to veteran players yet, but I believe it would behoove him to play the best players available.

Much like with Dach among the forward, I feel like Boqvist is among the Hawks' top six defensemen.

If he makes the team, one has to wonder what the future holds for Gustafsson. Having Boqvist and Gustafsson on the same defensive unit is either a luxury (two really good offensive defensemen!) or dangerous (two players who struggle to defend!), whichever point of view you prefer. Gustafsson is coming off a 60-point season and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. His value will likely never be higher than it is today.

It’s unlikely the Blackhawks will be able to bring Gustafsson back with both winger Alex DeBrincat and center Dylan Strome due big deals. It may be in their best interest to deal him sooner than later -- assuming they can’t move Seabrook.

Who will win the bottom-six spots?

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, DeBrincat, Strome, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Zack Smith and Ryan Carpenter are the forwards who are guaranteed roster spots. That leaves four starting spots and one or two reserve spots for the other forwards.

Vying for those spots will be Dach, Dylan Sikura, David Kampf, Anton Wedin, Alex Fortin, Drake Caggiula, Brendan Perlini, Dominik Kubalik, John Quenneville and Alex Nylander. Those are just the favorites. Long shots like Brandon Hagel, Matthew Highmore and others could rise up and surprise as well. Colliton will have a lot of options. You have to wonder if Dach could be left out based on a numbers game alone.

How will Crawford and Lehner share the net?

For the first time in this era, the Blackhawks have a pair of No. 1 goaltenders. Robin Lehner is coming off a Vezina Trophy-worthy season with the Islanders. Corey Crawford is coming off a tough year statistically, but Patrick Roy in his prime would've struggled behind the Hawks' porous defense last season. I’m not sure how much we’ll learn about this subject in the preseason, where Colin Delia, Alexis Gravel and Kevin Lankinen will get some starts, but it will be another story to watch as the regular season gets started.

All of these topics makes this one of the most intriguing training camps in recent memory. Make sure to keep an eye on and an ear on the Madhouse Podcast as the preseason rolls on.

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