Friday night’s contest between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators got a new ripple to it with the announcement of the Blackhawks lineup. Out of the game with a hip injury is defenseman Calvin de Haan, who gave it a go on Wednesday but left the game. Chicago is still dressing seven defensemen, with Nicolas Beaudin entering the lineup in place of the injured de Haan.
With the lineup changes, Chicago will be icing one of their youngest defensive groups this season and in recent memory. The average age tonight for the group is 25.5-years-old, even with Duncan Keith in the lineup.
With Calvin de Haan out, the Blackhawks will have one of their youngest defenseman groups of the season tonite. The seven defensemen are Adam Boqvist (20), Nicolas Beaudin (21), Riley Stillman (23), Wyatt Kalynuk (24), Nikita Zadorov (26), Connor Murphy (28) & Duncan Keith (37).
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) April 23, 2021
This could be a glimpse into the future for the Blackhawks defensively when looking at the 2021-22 roster. We took a stab at what the Chicago lineup could look like in 2021-22 earlier this month, and six of the seven defensemen playing tonight were a part of that projection.
With the Seattle Expansion draft coming later this summer, the Blackhawks could end up exposing defenseman Calvin de Haan and Seattle could end up taking him. Right now, he looks like the most intriguing player that will be available from the Blackhawks. With him out of the lineup tonight, we get another look at Beaudin, who hasn’t played with Chicago since March 28th and has just 14 games with the Blackhawks this season.
Jeremy Colliton on Nicolas Beaudin: "We feel we need one more option back there for the guys who can play minutes. He’s shown earlier in the year that he can do that for us and it’ll be a good challenge for him." #Blackhawks (2/2)
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) April 23, 2021
Beaudin has also skated in nine AHL games with the Rockford IceHogs this season, where he has two goals and ten points in his time there. The former first-round pick figures to be a long-term piece of the Blackhawks defensive plans as an organization but he just hasn’t broken through to be an NHL-regular yet like his fellow 2018 draftee Adam Boqvist.
Also in the lineup tonight, but was not mentioned in the 2021-22 roster projection piece is Riley Stillman. After being acquired from the Florida Panthers, Stillman has played in five games with the Blackhawks and is getting significant time compared to what he saw with the Panthers this season. In eight games in Florida, Stillman was averaging just 10:43 minutes per game, but is up to 17:43 minutes per game with Chicago, including a 21:23-minute effort in his first game with the Blackhawks.
The organization really has grown to like Stillman in his short time and the small sample size of his play has led many to think he could be a younger, cheaper replacement for a player like Nikita Zadorov, who is a restricted free agent this summer with arbitration rights.
Another player the Blackhawks have grown to love is college free agent signing Wyatt Kalynuk. It took him a while to get his chance to get into the lineup, but since then he has not looked back. In 12 games this season, Kalynuk has five points and is logging an average of 14:10 minutes per game. He’s played over 15 minutes in four of his last five games, and the only game he didn’t was a game he left because of an injury. Kalynuk is another in a line of middle-pair, puck-moving and fleet of feet defensemen the Blackhawks hav stock-piled in recent years. It goes a long way in saying that he jumped in the NHL roster and pushed his way into being a lineup-regular at a critical time of the season.
This is a tipping-point in the 2021 season tonight for the Blackhawks, playing for the postseason lives against a team that they have only beaten once this season and it took a 5-4 overtime comeback win to do it. With so much on the line, it’ll be a major sink or swim moment for a lot of the young defensemen in the lineup for Chicago. (It also wouldn’t hurt if Connor Murphy and Nikita Zadorov also stepped their games up tonight, too.) Chicago finds themselves in almost a best-case scenario for their development plan this season by having to play their young players in games that actually matter as they fight for positing in the Central Division. Here’s to hoping they swim.