After the NHL qualifying offer deadline came and went on Monday, a number of new names have joined this season’s free-agent pool, which officially “opens” on Wednesday, July 13. Although many of the names aren’t top-of-the-market talent, there is still potential they make an impact on a team’s roster. For the Chicago Blackhawks, taking fliers on high-upside players is never a bad thing.
Following the Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach trades, as well as the buyouts and non-qualification of RFAs, the Blackhawks’ roster is barren. Now, despite entering a confirmed rebuild, the team needs bodies on the ice. This is where the group of non-qualified players and buyouts makes sense for Chicago to explore.
Kyle Davidson will have to make some moves in free agency. However, most of them will be short-term deals, mostly one-year pacts, that can either be moved at the deadline, let go after the season, or be re-upped as a part of the future. With that in mind, here are some of the names the Blackhawks should explore signing in the coming weeks.
Ryan Donato burst onto the NHL scene in 2017-18 with the Boston Bruins. After a hot start to his career (nine points in 12 games), the young winger tailed off. Since then, he has become a journeyman of sorts while still managing to show enough skill to earn another shot.
This past season, Donato got an opportunity with the expansion Seattle Kraken. Although the Kraken finished near the bottom of the league standings, Donato put together a nice little campaign on the West Coast. In 74 games, he tallied 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists).
For a team like Chicago, a 26-year-old winger who can score 15 to 20 goals is appealing. In addition, he becomes a perfect candidate to flip at the deadline or hang onto for another season. Donato isn’t a flashy name, but he possesses value that makes sense for a rebuilding team.
Don’t bother to look up Josh Leivo’s 2021-22 NHL numbers. They were minimal (three points in seven games for Carolina), but hear me out. Leivo was a force in the AHL, helping the Chicago Wolves capture the Calder Cup.
Despite only suiting up for 54 games in the regular season, Leivo still had 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists) on a loaded Wolves team. That said, the playoffs are where he earned his value. In 18 playoff games, Leivo posted 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) and won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as Calder Cup Playoffs MVP.
Leivo is 29 years old, so he isn’t a player just entering his prime. However, with 214 games of NHL experience, Leivo could be a sneaky add for great value in 2022-23.
Just hours after being bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers, Oskar Lindblom is an intriguing name hitting the market. Another young player (25) who has upside is available for nothing but dollars. Thus, he makes sense as a Chicago Blackhawks’ free-agent target.
Although best suited as a bottom-six forward, Lindblom is a player who could still grow into his own. 18 points in his first 30 games of the 2019-20 season offered promise before an Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis derailed a breakout season. Miraculously, Lindblom returned in the shortened 2021 season after a cancer-free diagnosis one year later. He tallied 14 points in 50 games and followed that up with 26 points in 79 games this past season.
Lindblom was set to make $3 million in 2022-23. However, after the Flyers’ acquisition of Tony DeAngelo, the forward was bought out to clear cap space. Now, he’s a prime candidate for a team to sign, give meaningful playing time to, and see if he blossoms as he was starting to do in 2019. For the Blackhawks, there is no loss bringing in Lindblom this summer.
Once a highly-touted prospect for the Blue Jackets, Sonny Milano fell out of favor in Columbus and moved on to the Anaheim Ducks in 2019-20. In only nine games, he tallied five points. The impact was enough for him to remain in Anaheim, but he only saw six games of action in the shortened season. He rebounded in 2021-22, collecting 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 66 games.
Milano is an intriguing name to not receive a qualifying offer. Although Anaheim is letting him hit the open market, it doesn’t mean they won’t try to bring him back. However, a team like the Chicago Blackhawks, who can offer top-nine playing time, should be on his radar. In return, a player that can provide value at the deadline or become part of the near future is worth a flier as well.
Perhaps the most random name on the list, Rem Pitlick is a player the Blackhawks should keep in mind. After spending a number of seasons in the Nashville Predators organization, Pitlick finally received a legitimate NHL chance last season. The 25-year-old tallied 37 points in 66 games between Minnesota and Montreal. Over the course of an 82-game season, Pitlick would average nearly 46 points. That is really good production, arguably of middle-six-caliber as well.
As a former third-round pick, Pitlick thrived in the AHL. He tallied 20 goals in just 63 games in 2019-20, then followed that up with eight goals in as many games with the Chicago Wolves in 2021. Now feels like a perfect time for the University of Minnesota product to earn a real chance in a team’s top six.
Why not a rebuilding team like the Blackhawks? Oh, and he’s also familiar with new Chicago head coach Luke Richardson from their time together in Montreal.
What Will the Blackhawks Do?
Without a doubt, the Chicago Blackhawks will make a few signings in the upcoming free agency period. However, names such as the ones above make the most sense for a rebuilding team to explore. They’re all low-risk, high-reward players who might benefit from an elevated opportunity. Players like Pitlick, Milano, and Lindblom might turn a corner given a top-nine role. Who knows?
Expect the Blackhawks to be linked to some names — perhaps a few on this list — when free agency opens on July 13.
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