Don't Tune Out Just Yet, Blackhawks Have "Lots to Play For" Down the Stretch

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Don’t Tune Out Just Yet, Blackhawks Have “Lots to Play For” Down the Stretch

Chicago Blackhawks

If you’ve made it this far, there’s no reason to tune out just yet. Dylan Strome told the NHL on TNT cast on Wednesday night that despite being out of contention for a playoff berth and entering the infancy of a rebuild, there is “lots to play for” during these final 17 games of the season. Alex DeBrincat echoed his sentiment on Thursday night after a shootout win in Los Angeles, with two-thirds of the Blackhawks’ top-line stressing that these final games mean something to them.

“As a team, we’re trying to form this identity of how we want to play and how we want to be moving forward, so I think these past two games have been pretty good showings for us; we’ve just got to keep working hard,” DeBrincat said.

Strome and DeBrincat feel that these Blackhawks have something to prove over these final 17 games, and I think they’re right. I also believe that there’s plenty of reason to continue to watch the Blackhawks down the stretch.

Last night, DeBrincat potted his 37th goal of the season, his third straight game with a goal (he now has eight goals this month in 12 games). Can he hit the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career? Maybe. It’ll be challenging, and it’s more reasonable to root for him to surpass his career-high 41 goals (2018-19), but it’s not impossible. And, hey, the Blackhawks do have two games left against each of Arizona (3.56 GA/GP), San Jose (3.14 GA/GP), and Buffalo (3.47 GA/GP), plus one more against Philly (3.41 GA/GP) and Vegas (3.00 GA/GP) before the end of the year. There’s a shot.

But even if DeBrincat falls short of 50, it seems highly likely that he’ll have a new career-high in goals when it’s all said and done, and there’s a good chance he can log the second 70-point season of his career.

Dylan Strome has plenty to prove himself. Strome spent the entire season thinking he was going to get traded, and now that he can finally breath easy on that front, he has to prove that he should be a part of this rebuild as a core player or strengthen his arbitration case as an RFA if it comes to that. Strome is sitting at 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) on the season, with 29 of them coming in his last 27 games since he became a regular fixture on the top line with Patrick Kane. Strome has a shot at his career-high 51 points (2018-19) if he continues to play at the level he has for the last two months.

Patrick Kane has a big decision to make in the not-too-distant future, but he’s just focused on finishing the season strong for now. Kane has 25 points in his last 12 games and 78 on the season. Can Kane log his fifth 80-point season? Can he match his career-high assists mark (66)? Watching Patrick Kane is always a good reason to tune in, but watching Patrick Kane play at the level he’s played at the past couple of months is appointment viewing.

Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia are both RFAs after the season, but the Blackhawks will need goaltending help next season with only Arvid Söderblom under contract. Kevin Lankinen said on Thursday that this is his time to shine.

“I see this as a big opportunity for myself,” Lankinen said. “I kind of see where this team is going and what they’re building here. I like it here, and I’m going to make the most out of the opportunity, so we’ll see what happens.

“I’ve been working extremely hard, and I think this is my time to shine, and I’m going to make the most out of it.”

Lankinen has looked strong in his two recent starts for the Blackhawks against Minnesota and Anaheim. Collin Delia has spent much of his Blackhawks tenure in Rockford, but he’ll also be looking for a new deal and a shot at some prime playing time in net for the Blackhawks next season. A friendly goaltender battle down the stretch seems as good a reason as any to tune in, right?

Lastly, but certainly not least, there’s evaluating to do!

Taylor Raddysh and Sam Lafferty, two of Kyle Davidson’s first trade acquisitions as the GM of the Blackhawks, hooked up on one of the prettiest goals this season on Thursday night. Raddysh has two goals and two assists in his last four games and looks like he’s taking full advantage of the change of scenery that the Blackhawks have provided him with. Sam Lafferty has been doing much more than the score sheet would tell you since coming to town, and Wally Maz on Twitter did an excellent job of digging up some stats that seems good if you’re a Sam Lafferty fan.

Lafferty’s first 28 games (before Thursday night’s goal against the Kings) with Chicago this season versus Brandon Hagel’s first 28 with the Blackhawks last season look pretty darn similar. Everyone is begging for one of the assets in the Tampa Bay trade to turn into Brandon Hagel, and the whole time, Sam Lafferty has been trending towards filling the void left by Hagel. I’m not saying that Lafferty will be as good or better than Brandon Hagel, but if he can be close to as good as Hagel and Taylor Raddysh can continue to look like the second-rounder that the Lightning once had high hopes for, the Kyle Davidson will be looking pretty bright.

Don’t get me wrong; there will probably be some clunkers scattered throughout the final 16 games of the season. Still, there will be plenty of reasons to keep tuning in and watching the Blackhawks down the stretch, and almost all of them will have future implications for this team as it navigates its way through the infancy of the rebuild.

Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is the Lead NFL Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.