Both de Haan and Murphy were held out of Friday’s regular-season opener in Prague due to lingering groin injuries.

The first game of the 2019-20 NHL season didn’t go as well as the Chicago Blackhawks had hoped. The opposing Philadephia Flyers were undoubtedly the superior team, as they largely out-chanced the ‘Hawks 31-14 during 5-on-5 play. The Flyers also dominated the high-danger chances at full strength 12-4, while attempting nearly 20 more shots on goal in the game. Much like all of last season, the Blackhawks struggled mightily in the defensive zone.

The Blackhawks defense should be in better shape once Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy return from injury. Both players are currently out with groin problems but are expected to return to the lineup sooner rather than later. In Murphy’s case, he could be ready to go for Thursday night’s home-opener vs. the San Jose Sharks.

“It’s been a few days now and I feel really good, so we’ll go from there,” the 26-year-old defenseman said. “It felt good the last practice we had and today, all day, was good, so I’m happy with that.”

“It’s good that he – even after practice from what I understand – he felt good. We’ll see though.” head coach Jeremy Colliton said. If Colliton’s “we’ll see” is anything like former coach Joel Quenneville’s, expect to see Connor Murphy in the lineup Thursday night.

As for Calvin de Haan, it sounds like the Blackhawks are expecting him to miss a little more time. De Haan did not practice with the Blackhawks Wednesday afternoon, which suggests that he could miss Thursday’s game. Even if de Haan doesn’t play on Thursday, there are still 80 games remaining, and the Blackhawks certainly want an integral part of their defense ready for the grueling regular season.

What To Expect From de Haan And Murphy

Once Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy are fully healthy, it’s fair to assume that they’ll be the premier defensive defensemen in the Blackhawks lineup. Both players are coming off strong seasons in which they were essential components of their respected team’s defense.

Looking at Calvin de Haan, the 28-year-old defenseman played a significant part in the Carolina Hurricanes’ success last year. The Hurricanes shockingly made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and de Haan’s role as a shut-down defenseman helped solidify one of the league’s top defenses.

At this point in his career, de Haan is a reliable top-four defenseman. The 2009 first-round pick is a smooth skater and has been an effective penalty killer throughout his career. De Haan may not provide much offensively (he’s tallied just one season with 20+ points), but he’s as sturdy as they come in the defensive zone. The Blackhawks haven’t had a defenseman like that since the abrupt departure of Niklas Hjalmarsson.

As for Connor Murphy, he struggled during his first four NHL seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. Ever since the move from the desert to Chicago though, Murphy has settled in as one of the Blackhawks’ top defensemen. Despite playing in just 52 games last season, Murphy was second on the team in hits, plus-minus, and defensive point shares (an estimate of the number of points contributed by a player due to his defense). Head coach Jeremy Colliton relied heavily on Murphy in the defensive zone, with a 61.2 defensive-zone start percentage as well.

While Murphy still has much to prove in his young career, he’s rightfully earned the trust of his coach and teammates. The 6-foot-4, 212-pound defenseman was one of the few bright spots on the Blackhawks’ blue line last year. Murphy will comfortably slide into a top-four role once again this season and could be paired with Calvin de Haan long term. Although, Murphy would be a nice fit alongside Duncan Keith on the top pairing, too.

Up Next

The Blackhawks hope to have Connor Murphy back for their home opener on Thursday night vs. San Jose. Both teams are looking for their first win of the season, as the Sharks are off to an 0-4-0 start to their year. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET, with the game scheduled to be on ESPN+, NBCSCH, and NBCSCA.

For more Blackhawks news and updates, follow the author (@JackBushman2) on Twitter. Make sure to check out the author’s podcast, Talkin’ Hawkey, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Twitter (@TalkinHawkey).