Chicago Blackhawks Preseason Over: What Did We Learn?

Chicago Blackhawks Preseason Over: What Did We Learn?

With the dull thud of a 4-1 loss in Washington, the preseason of the 2011-12 Chicago Blackhawks came to a close.

So what were these exhibitions worth? Let’s take a look at how the roster could fill out.

Brandon Saad still doesn’t have an entry-level contract (ELC), but he does apparently have a roster spot in Chicago. Before Sunday’s game, coach Joel Quenneville confirmed that Saad will be staying with the Blackhawks and not returning to his junior club in Saginaw (which Rockford coach Ted Dent indicated was the organization’s intent when the preseason began). He is likely the biggest beneficiary of Viktor Stalberg‘s leg injury.

Brandon Pirri skated circles around opposing defensemen and goalies, and flew past Marcus Kruger on the organizational depth chart. He led the team with four preseason goals, and showed the ability to contribute on special teams. He might be on the fence to make the roster, but has more than likely bumped Kruger to Rockford to begin the season.

John Scott sucks. He doesn’t belong in the NHL or the AHL. Indeed, some players in the ECHL might take offense to him being in skates.

Nick Leddy had a really good camp, and appears to be a lot more confident skating with NHL players now than he (understandably) did last year, when he was fresh out of college. He might not be as experienced or savvy as Brian Campbell was, but he has all the physical tools to be an impact defenseman this year.

Like Leddy, Dylan Olsen showed a lot of maturity this year and looks ready to make the jump to Chicago whenever he’s asked to make the drive in from Rockford. A bigger, more physical defenseman than Leddy, his positioning is greatly improved over last year; his game has matured.

The coaches are going to have a tough time handing out shifts on the blue line. Certainly the multi-year commitments to Steve Montador and Leddy will help them see more action, but Sean O’Donnell and Sami Lepisto should be able to step in and skate effectively on the bottom pair any night. The chemistry might not be there yet, but there is depth the team did not have last season.

Similarly, figuring out who skates where up front could be interesting. With Patrick Kane seeing fairly significant time at center, and showing good chemistry with Marian Hossa, the Hawks have an opportunity to have a couple potentially devastating offensive lines between Kane-Hossa and Jonathan Toews with Patrick Sharp. Now it’s up to the coaches to put the right wing opposite Sharp and Hossa, and figure out where the rest of the pieces fall.

If we were putting together the opening night lines tonight, here is what they might look like:

  • Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp
  • Andrew Brunette-Patrick Kane/Brandon Pirri-Marian Hossa
  • Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Michael Frolik
  • Rostislav Olesz-Jamal Mayers-Daniel Carcill0/Ben Smith

Quenneville has indicated that he likes the work Kane has done at center, and will keep Kane between Brunette and Hossa at the beginning of the year.

When Stalberg returns in 2-3 weeks, he could move into Saad’s place on the top line; he certainly earned a look in a more important role with a strong camp before being injured against Detroit.

In net…

We were pretty clear with our opinion prior to Sunday’s game. If this was truly a competition to win the backup job, Alexander Salak won and it isn’t close. Yet there are still fans begging for there to be experience somewhere on the roster for when (not if) Corey Crawford gets hurt.

The fact that Ray Emery hasn’t been shown the door likely indicates that the team is working on a deal with the veteran. There are concerns if this is true.

First, Emery raised more than a few questions with his .831 save percentage and goals against average that was above 4.50. There were moments where his hip looked tight, and there were moments where his decision making was attrocious. Frankly, he was bad in his limited action during the preseason.

If he’s going to be Crawford’s backup in the NHL, fans should not be comfortable that he can come in and pitch a shutout. Indeed, expecting him to be as good as Marty Turco was last year might be an aggressive approach.

If the organization makes the right call and names Salak the backup, Emery would have to clear waivers before he could join the NHL roster. There is a strong likelihood that another organization could/would claim him before he ever wore a Blackhawks sweater.

There are teams that will want/need to move a goalie this year that could accomodate the Hawks in a trade if a desperate situation were to arise down the road. San Jose’s best goalie during this preseason has been Thomas Greiss, and they might want to unload Anteri Niittymaki. Similarly, the Islanders have surprise youngster Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov on their roster while still paying Rick DiPietro forever.

The point is, Emery didn’t look good and the Hawks have plenty of cap space to acquire a veteran backup if they need to down the road. Championship organizations carry the best 21-23 players possible on their roster; Bob Pulford filled his bench with veterans because they had experience.

As we get ready for the coming season, there is plenty of reason for optimism. There is better scoring from the top of the roster to the bottom, and depth isn’t a concern. There is no reason to think this Blackhawks team can’t make a deep run into the postseason.

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