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This has to be the worst way that Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Jake McCabe could have imagined his time with the organization going. After having his 2020-21 season cut-short due to a knee injury with the Sabres, McCabe signed with the Blackhawks last offseason during the final “go for it” moves of former GM Stan Bowman on a four-year deal. McCabe and his family have spent summers in Chicago for over a half-dozen years, so joining the organization last summer felt like a pseudo-homecoming.
It hasn’t gone well.
McCabe endured last season’s disappointments in Chicago as one of the more steady defensemen in a group that was highly lackluster outside of Seth Jones. It was another season at the bottom of the league for him, something he imagined he’d left behind after leaving Buffalo. Now, as the Blackhawks announced on Tuesday morning, having undergone a successful cervical spine surgery, the soon-to-be 29-year-old (Oct. 12) defenseman will likely be out until December.
The Blackhawks reportedly knew McCabe would need this surgery and would miss time, so the free agent signing of Jack Johnson makes a bit more sense in the realm of needing a veteran presence to replace McCabe. But even with the addition of Johnson in-place of McCabe to start the season, there will still be a healthy competition amongst the young defensemen to make the opening night roster for the Blackhawks.
You never want to hope for an opportunity like this to come via injury, but it is an opportunity nonetheless. Players like Ian Mitchell, Alex Vlasic, and Alec Regula were already going to be battling for an open spot in the lineup, but now with McCabe missing a significant portion of the beginning of the season, there is more chance for more playing time for the up-and-coming blueline prospects in the Blackhawks system.
Figuring that Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, Caleb Jones, Jack Johnson, and Riley Stillman are likely locked into NHL roster spots, that leaves at least two spots open now for younger players to fill. Mitchell, Regula, and Vlasic will likely have the best shots to take those spots, but don’t count out Isaak Phillips, Jakub Galvas, Filip Roos, or Nicolas Beaudin making enough of an impact during the preseason and training camp to take one of those openings.
It’s unfortunate for these spots to open up because of an injury to McCabe, but it’s a good opportunity to see if Chicago has any young talent that is going to be full-time NHL-ready out of the gate.
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