Breaking Down Chicago’s Defensemen

Duncan Keith

Keith turns 34 in a couple weeks and is starting to decline defensively. This past offseason he was near replacement level in terms of even strength defense, however he was still able to provide good offense. Taking Hjalmarsson away from him will really diminish the defensive ability of Chicago’s “shutdown pairing”. At this point in Keith’s career, it would be a good time to transition him to more easier minutes. That won’t be possible with the defensemen they currently have though.

Brent Seabrook

32-years-old, and as Jonathan Willis of Sportsnet recently said, the contract that ended the Blackhawks dynasty. Seabrook still provides some offensive upside at even strength and on the power play, but his defensive game is horrendous unless he’s facing the weakest competition. He can challenge opposing skaters at the blue line, but then the opponents blow right by him. He isn’t quick enough to get to lose pucks. Even his physical game looks diminished as it seems like he doesn’t have the balance anymore to throw his weight around. Even his offensive game isn’t that impressive anymore. At even strength this past season he recorded one goal and five primary assists according to DataRink.com

Connor Murphy

24-years-old and probably at his peak right now and shouldn’t improve that much over the next five seasons. He’s a big body that provides replacement level offense but has some upside defensively. Overall his numbers aren’t too impressive relative to his teammates. Even on a team as bad as Arizona, a top-4 impact defensemen should have been more impressive.

Murphy is probably a bigger Trevor Van Riemsdyk. TVR put up better numbers, but if we give Murphy a slight boost going from Arizona to Chicago, they would probably look pretty similar. Obviously Murphy is bigger and more physical, but the overall production and talent level would be similar in my opinion.

To me, best case scenario is Murphy becomes a solid 4th defensemen level talent with Chicago. Worst case scenario is he stays a good 3rd pairing, 5th defensemen level talent. As much as people liked to shit on Van Riemsdyk, TVR was right in this mix. He was slightly better than the average 5th defensemen, but not quite as good as the average 4th defensemen.

I’d expect Murphy to fill in as the Johnny Oduya or Trevor Van Riemsdyk of the Blackhawks for the next 5-seasons, if he isn’t traded.

Gustav Forsling

Just turned 21, and he lit up the AHL last season posting good offensive numbers on a pretty bad team. I have high expectations for Forsling and also believe he can become a high impact, top-4 defensemen in the NHL that Chicago desperately needs.

Michal Kempny

He’s a 26-years-old okay 3rd pairing defensemen. He’s aggressive in the offensive zone with a highly effective pinching ability that keeps pucks in the fun zone. However, he isn’t much of a playmaker or passer. He isn’t that great defensively either. Even though Chicago dominated in shots with him on the ice, opponents outscored Chicago with Kempny out there. Even though he can keep the puck in the offensive zone, he probably isn’t good enough defensively to have Chicago see much benefit from winning the shot battle.

It’s his second season in the States, so maybe he can become a competent 3rd pairing contributor this season.

Luc Snuggerud

I would watch out for this prospect. He just left college and joined the Rockford Icehogs at the end of last season. This is the type of mobile, puck moving defensemen Chicago desperately needs in their lineup. He’s only 21-years-old, so I don’t know if he’ll crack the NHL next season but remember the name.

Jan Ruuta

26-years-old and put up good numbers in the Czech league. He probably isn’t much more than a depth defensemen. Best case scenario is he becomes a solid 3rd pair guy. Right hand shot which is a plus.

Erik Gustafsson

I just want to see this guy play in the NHL somewhere. He had the highest assist rate out of all NHL defensemen to play at least 500 minutes at even strength in 2015-16. He’s the type of offensive, mobile, puck moving defensemen that Chicago could use. He’s currently an RFA, so I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. I just hope he gets a shot somewhere to see if his stellar 2015-16 season was real or a fluke. He deserves the opportunity though.

Ville Pokka

He’s 23-years-old and hasn’t cracked the NHL yet. He is getting close to his peak already and isn’t even an NHL caliber defensemen. Best case scenario is he can become a solid third pairing guy at this point.

The Pairings:

This is not going to be representative of how good or what level these guys can play at. I think Duncan Keith and Gustav Forsling are the only defensemen on the team that can be impactful defensemen in a top-4 role.

Seabrook can be a good third pair guy, but he’s not a top-4 anymore. Murphy can also be a good third pair guy, but he’s going to have to play up where he shouldn’t.

Right now Quenneville might run these pairings out there.

Keith – Murphy
Forsling – Seabrook
Kempny – Ruuta

That’s scary for Chicago. Kempny and Rutta are probably replacement level 3rd pairing guys. Seabrook and Murphy are plus third pairing guys. Forsling may be ready for a second pairing role. Keith may be able to hold down a top pairing role for another season or two. That’s scary.

I don’t mind trading Hjalmarsson, but I feel they got poor value for him. Obviously, I don’t know about any offers on the table or what they could have got, but I feel Hjalmarsson is viewed more highly in the NHL, especially with that nice contract of his.

There’s still a lot of offseason left, but Chicago was a poor team defensively last season and lost a couple of their better defensive defensemen. They also didn’t add a mobile, impact, puck moving defensemen which the team also needs.

1 Comment

  1. Why it seems no one wants to give a shot to Kempny-Seabrook pairing for a season. When I saw them together on ice they were solid 2nd pair unit with good chemistry. In this pairing Kempny is the fast one and Seabs is the big body. And speaking about Kempny, if you can keep puck in offensive zone you don’t need to be great defensively!

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