Who might emerge as No. 1 goaltender for Chicago Blackhawks?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia helped the 2017-18 Rockford IceHogs reach the conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs, then got 16 starts for the Hawks the next season.

    Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia helped the 2017-18 Rockford IceHogs reach the conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs, then got 16 starts for the Hawks the next season. AP File Photo

 
 
Updated 10/17/2020 6:46 PM

A youth movement is coming to the Blackhawks.

In the long run, it will make the team stronger and more capable of challenging for a Stanley Cup.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sure, there will be some pain involved and maybe even a lost season or two.

But, boy, will it be worth it.

This is what general manager Stan Bowman and the Hawks are selling.

Now here's the question: Are fans buying it?

Honestly, it hardly matters because this is where the Hawks are at.

"We're not trying to do anything other than to grow through younger players, give them an opportunity," Bowman said after announcing he would not be re-signing Corey Crawford on Oct. 8. "(We want them to) play a role and to grow because that's where you're going to see progress.

"That's how your team's going to move to becoming an elite team, and that's what we're striving to be."

In most cases, elite teams are led by a world-class goaltender and world-class defensemen.

Bowman has lauded his three inexperienced netminders -- Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen. The Hawks' GM steadfastly believes that at least one is ready to take the next step, just as Crawford did when he went 33-18-6 with a 2.30 goals-against average as a rookie in 2010-11.

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Of course, there is one big difference with those Hawks and these Hawks.

"(Crawford) also had a juggernaut team in front of him when he first came in," said former Hawks goalie Scott Darling. "My worries as a Hawks fan (is) if you don't have a top-five goalie with the team that's in place right now, that's gonna be a rough season."

Tough to argue with that.

I know many of you aren't very familiar with these netminders, so let's take a look at them and see if we can handicap who might be in net when next season gets underway.

MALCOLM SUBBAN:

A first-round pick of the Bruins in 2012, Subban has been immersed in the hockey lifestyle since before he could walk. His older brother, P.K., is a five-time all-star and currently playing for the Devils, while his younger brother, Jordan, played in Austria last season.

Malcolm has played in 66 NHL games and has been fortunate enough to back up Tuukka Rask in Boston, Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas and Crawford in Chicago.

"I've been able to play behind three unbelievable goaltenders and learn from them," said Subban, who is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. "The one thing they all have in common is the compete level and the battle. ... It's unbelievable how they can do what they do so well so consistently. That's been huge."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Subban, who signed a one-year, $850,000 contract to return to the Hawks, didn't look particularly impressive during summer training last July. He'll have to sharpen his skills and prove that consistent playing time is all he needs to improve bleak career numbers like an .899 save percentage and 2.97 goals-against average.

"I definitely got in a groove when I played some more games," Subban said. "But that's got to be earned. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to earn those starts."

COLLIN DELIA:

The California native went from roller hockey to ice hockey when he was 12. While playing at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, Delia received an invitation to attend Blackhawks development camp at Johnny's IceHouse West in 2016. He was back the next summer as well and ended up signing a two-year deal on July 28, 2017.

"We made a decision sort of on the spot. This guy was better than any of the other goalies that we had," Bowman said.

Delia (6-2, 208) helped the 2017-18 Rockford IceHogs reach the conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs, then got 16 starts for the Hawks the next season.

It looked like Delia would back Crawford up in 2019-20, but he found himself back in Rockford after Bowman signed Robin Lehner to a one-year, $5 million deal.

After a rough start, Delia settled down and compiled a 2.25 GAA and .932 save percentage in his final 25 appearances.

We'll see if an off-season of training pays off to the point that Delia becomes the No. 1 netminder.

KEVIN LANKINEN:

Lankinen played in 157 games (including playoffs) in the Finnish Elite League from 2014-18, and was signed by the Hawks in May 2018. He made 40 starts in Rockford over the last two seasons.

Bowman was particularly impressed with the 25-year-old's performance in the 2019 World Championships.

Lankinen shut out an impressive Russian team in the semis then led Finland to the gold medal by allowing just 1 goal to Canada in a 3-1 victory. He stopped 75 of 76 shots in those two games.

"It was impressive to see what Kevin did in the World Championships," Bowman said. "That was, in a lot of regards, best on best.

"(Finland) certainly had a lot of star players there, but they also had a lot of unheralded players -- and he took that team all the way to the top. It was a tournament, so it's a smaller sample, but it's a three-week period of time where he played a really high level of hockey.

"That gave us some belief that he could do it."

Lankinen often outperformed Delia and Subban during summer training at Fifth Third Arena. While the lesser-known name of the three, don't be surprised if he ends up winning the job.

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