Four X-factors that could determine how Hawks fare in 2016-17

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Patrick Kane won the scoring title and the Hart Trophy last season. (AP Photo)

Had Brent Seabrook’s booming shot late in the third period of Game 7 gone in rather than hit both goal posts, it’s not hard to envision the Blackhawks making a fourth straight deep postseason run last spring. Instead, they had their longest offseason since the 2012 lockout.

They’re rested, hungry, and still loaded with high-end talent. But these X-factors will determine just how good they can be, and just how far they can go.

Are the kids all right?

Noteworthy: The Hawks will have a whopping six rookies in the lineup Wednesday night when they open the season against St. Louis. Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte, Vinnie Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling bring speed and excitement to the ice, but growing pains are inevitable. The first couple of months could be a bit rocky as the new guys get settled, and in such a deep division, it could put the Hawks in an early hole. The quicker they adapt to life in the NHL, the better off the Hawks will be.

Quoteworthy: “We’re going to make mistakes, but for the most part, we’ve got a ton of skill,” Jonathan Toews said. “These young guys are really going to contribute in that way, too. … [But] for the most part, it still always comes down to our leaders and the guys who have been here for a while to play the right way and set the tone early in the season.”

Depth charge

Noteworthy: The Hawks were such a one-line team last season that Joel Quenneville flirted with the idea of breaking up Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane during this camp in search of scoring balance, before thinking better of it. Toews and Marian Hossa (who is sitting on 499 goals entering the season) expect to be more productive this year than last, especially with Richard Panik now seemingly entrenched on the top line. But the bottom six features four rookies, an enforcer (Jordin Tootoo), and a third-line center (Marcus Kruger) who didn’t score a single goal last season.

Quoteworthy: “Obviously, we want everybody to score,” Quenneville said. “We look at [Kruger] as having that defensive reliability and predictability, but we’d definitely like to see some production.”

Health concerns

Noteworthy: Duncan Keith’s surgically repaired knee kept him out of the World Cup, but he’s feeling good and will be on the ice Wednesday night. And while Quenneville said he hopes his deeper defense can spread the minutes around better, there are no plans to sit Keith out occasionally to keep him fresh. Defensively, the Hawks are in great shape. They have eight NHL-ready defensemen, and three more — Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg and Ville Pokka — waiting in the wings in Rockford. But a thin forward group in the NHL is even thinner in the AHL. If anybody gets hurt, or struggles in the early going, the next options are Brandon Mashinter, and previously underwhelming guys such as Mark McNeill, Kyle Baun and Tanner Kero. Injuries are inevitable, and the Hawks are only equipped to handle them on the back end.

Quoteworthy: “There’s still depth,” Quenneville said of the forwards. “There are a lot of guys that give us some depth, and make it competitive, so [we don’t] just give away ice time.”

Kane he do it again?

Noteworthy: Yes, the Hawks need other guys to score. But it still wouldn’t hurt if Kane dominated the way he did last season, en route to 106 points and the Hart Trophy. Kane is capable of changing momentum and winning games almost singlehandedly — though having the similarly dynamic Panarin on his left side sure helps — and while Quenneville tinkers with the rest of the lineup and while the rookies get acclimated, it’s probably up to Kane to keep the Hawks afloat.

Quoteworthy: “I feel good,” Kane said. “Took a little more time away from the rink than I usually would, but did a lot of different things off the ice to get my body right. … You never want to lose out in the first round, or have that long offseason, but when it actually happens, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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