Usually around this time of the year (in what would be a normal NHL season), we’d be approaching the All-Star break – a milestone event that signaled the end of the mid-season drag and the beginning of the second-half playoff push for some or the preparation of the trade deadline for others. But this mid-January is just the beginning of the season and there are more questions than answers. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, well outside of the 2013 season which also started in January.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, still looking for their first win, even just their first point in the standings, they’ll face a Florida Panthers team that will give them some feelings of familiarity.
• First, the ‘stache is back. Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville faces his former Blackhawks team for the third time since he was unceremoniously let go early in the 2018-19 season. Quenneville and the Panthers went 1-0-1 against Chicago last season, but they’ll get very familiar with each other this season, facing off eight times.
• Another face that will be familiar to the Blackhawks will be playing on the Panthers first-line. Anthony Duclair played a short time with the Blackhawks in the second half of the 2017-18 season. A former third-round pick by the New York Rangers in 2013, Duclair had his best NHL season in 2015-16 with the Arizona Coyotes and since has been a divisive player. He shows flashes of high-end skill, but at other times is a complete non-factor. With the Blackhawks, it was the same story, but his potential to be a serviceable NHL-regular player was there. The Blackhawks let Duclair go to free agency, and after splitting the 2018-19 season between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators, Duclair had a breakout year with Ottawa last season. Now he is back with Joel Quenneville, playing top-line wing for the Panthers. Keep an eye on #91 over the next two games and see if he’s playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
• A third familiar face will be skating with the Panthers on Sunday and Tuesday against the Blackhawks as defenseman Gustav Forsling lines up on defense for Florida. Forsling was claimed off waivers by the Panthers at the beginning of the season and is again playing under Quenneville, like he did with the Blackhawks at different times from 2016-2019. Forsling was involved in the trade between Chicago and Carolina that ended up netting the Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan and spent all of last season with the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes’ AHL club. Not as much of a chip on his shoulder situation as is possibly the case with Duclair, but Forsling is likely out to prove he is an NHL regular and should get that opportunity with the Panthers.
Keith Yandle expected to be in #FlaPanthers lineup for season debut tonight.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 17, 2021
• Keith Yandle currently holds the longest active streak for consecutive games played, having not missed a game in 866 outings. Yandle, who is not injured to my knowledge, has been on the outside looking in with the Panthers lineup to begin the season. After having their scheduled season opener rescheduled due to the Dallas Stars’ COVID outbreak, the Panthers first game of the season is Sunday night against Chicago. After some uncertainty, it appears that the iron-man streak will continue for Yandle.
• On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pius Suter just made his NHL debut with Chicago and looks to showcase that he is not only a NHL regular, but that he will be a factor for the Blackhawks rebuilding process.
• Another Blackhawk looking to do the same is Philipp Kurashev. Making his NHL debut on Friday night against the Lightning, Kurashev was thrown right into the top-six forwards group for Chicago and looked to be very comfortable in that role. Kurashev has climbed the prospect ladder for the Chicago farm system and could very likely play his way into a regular lineup spot.
• It took until two weeks after the fact, but it appears Michael Krutil will miss time at next year’s World Junior Championship tournament:
#Blackhawks defenseman prospect Michael Krutil has been suspended from the Czech Republic’s first two games of the 2022 #WorldJuniors for boarding Ryan Suzuki (#LetsGoCanes) in the #WJC quarterfinals against Canada. pic.twitter.com/6M1FzqRDYN
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) January 17, 2021
• A team that is not in the Central Division this season that usually would be a rival of the Blackhawks, is the Minnesota Wild. A team most people would forget about after spending a number of years in mediocrity actually looks fun to begin the season. The biggest reason? Russian rookie Kiril Kaprizov.
Kirill Kaprizov with a steal and breakaway winner in OT for the Wild pic.twitter.com/sVphLymWMv
— CJ Fogler 6'7" IQ 269 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 15, 2021
• After a much anticipated debut with the Wild ended in overtime with his first NHL goal, Kaprizov followed it up with another dose of overtime thrill:
Kaprizov deals to Johansson for the OT winner pic.twitter.com/09BfA2DpLz
— CJ Fogler 6'7" IQ 269 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 17, 2021
• The Wild actually look entertaining this season. How about that.
• Happy Birthday to a trio of Blackhawks today:
• Happy Birthday to one-time emergency backup goalie Scott Foster, who turns 39!
• Also, a Happy Birthday to 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Viktor Stalberg, turning 35 today!
• And finally, a Happy Birthday to Blackhawks legend Jeremy Roenick, who turns 51 today!