The Blackhawks were impressive throughout the 2011-12 season. The team responded to its crushing first-round exit to the rival Vancouver Canucks by putting together a record that - while fourth-best in the division - was still among the NHL's 10-best.
Although the team was bounced in the first round by the Phoenix Coyotes and Mike Smith's heroics, it's hard to be disappointed in losing a series when five of the six games went to overtime.
Just two seasons removed from a Stanley Cup victory, the Hawks did little to their roster in the off-season, suggesting that the core group of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook still has the club's full confidence.
All the scouts agreed that Teuvo Teravainen was a Top 10 talent. TSN's Craig Button and Bob McKenzie, the International Scouting Service and NHL Central Scouting all had him ranked between fifth and ninth overall. Yet there he was, available to the Chicago Blackhawks with the 18th pick. McKenzie was quoted as saying "he's a dynamic offensive presence who some scouts believe may have the best skill in the entire draft."
Teravainen was one of the few bright spots on a disappointing Finnish World Junior team at the 2013 tournament. While his final stats were padded by relegation round play, his crucial pair against Switzerland in the opening round gave the team at least a fighting chance to make the medal round.
Forwards Brandon Saad, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Hayes, as well as defenceman Dylan Olsen, all saw time with the Hawks last season. Meanwhile, the team's 2011 first-rounder Mark McNeill has had another solid season in Prince Albert (WHL) which earned him a spot (through injury replacement) on Canada's Wolrd Junior team and second-rounder Adam Clendening has fit in nicely this year in Rockford in his first taste of pro hockey.
The team was consistently good last season even without Toews, who missed the final 22 games to concussion. If the team's top players can carry the load once again and the quartet of Toews, Hossa, Kane and Sharp stay healthy, there's no reason the Hawks can't compete in the Western Conference's toughest division.
How far can the team go with the goaltending tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery? Both posted respectable win-loss totals and goals-against average last season, but with Crawford's .903 save percentage and Emery's mark of an even .900, neither can be expected to bail the team out on their own if their offence or defence falters at any point.
A look at where Blackhawks players went during the lockout:
Bryan Bickell (Orli Znojmo, Austria), Michael Frolik (HC Chomutov, Czech League), Jimmy Hayes (Rockford, AHL), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Bolzano, Italian League), Patrick Kane (EHC Biel, Swiss Elite), Marcus Kruger (Rockford, AHL), Nick Leddy (Rockford, AHL), Dylan Olsen (Rockford, AHL), Michal Rozsival (HC Plzen, Czech League), Brandon Saad (Rockford, AHL), Andrew Shaw (Rockford, AHL), Viktor Stalberg (Frolunda, Swedish Elite)