Morin earned top 6 minutes in the preseason skating on a line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, and he made the most of it. Coaches often talk about players that "the puck tends to find", and Morin falls under that category. He was noticeable on every shift, whether it be on an offensive scoring chance or a heavy hit into the boards. Morin's future is very bright and Hawks fans should be excited.
With the Morin decision finalized, the opening night roster can be pieced together. Morin was the only official decision made on Monday but sources indicate that Jassen Cullimore and Ryan Potulny will soon be joining him. Assuming Jack Skille is healthy, here is what I expect to see on Thursday night when the Hawks begin their title defense:
The defense pairings will look exactly like that, but the forward lines could be different. Quenneville doesn't like to keep things the same for long. If it were up to me, Brouwer would be in the top 6 and Kopecky would fill his spot on the 3rd line. We'll see if Q agrees.
Nick Boynton will get an opportunity to play consistent 3rd pairing defense minutes, but he will be serving a one game suspension on Thursday for a taunting incident in the preseason.
This lineup looks strong up the middle with some question marks on the wing. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as Stan Bowman purposely held onto his "core" which is mostly comprised of centers and top 4 defensemen.
The team also looks younger, with Leddy, Skille, Stalberg, and Dowell replacing guys like Madden, Ladd, Campbell and Versteeg. The Leddy for Campbell thing is temporary of course, but that youth may show its face in a negative way early on. Don't panic if it does.
Looking at this roster, here are the three things that excite me most, followed by the three that worry me:
1) The team is faster. That is bad news for the NHL. If Jack Skille can finally contribute at the NHL level and Viktor Stalberg finds his hands, look out.
2) Marty Turco is a 3rd puck moving defenseman. It was discussed all summer and we saw it in the preseason. Turco loves to start the rush, and that mentality on this Blackhawks team is a match made in heaven. I imagine Turco will record several assists this season. Just a hunch.
3) This team looks tougher on paper. People got excited when Burish or Eager dropped the mitts last year, but the truth is, neither was an enforcer. They were pesks. John Scott? He is an enforcer. He fights people, and he wins. Nick Boynton does the same thing. Bickell won't back down either. Don't mistake me for a meatball that thinks winning fights means winning hockey games, but there were times last year when a lack of physicality was a glaring hole in the Hawks' game. Hockey is a sport that sometimes requires the players to police the game themselves. Thanks to players like Scott, Boynton, or Kyle Beach if he makes the jump, Patrick Kane might find himself with a little more room to skate against the St. Louis Blues this year. A combination of skill and physicality can make this year's Blackhawks even harder to beat in a 7-game series.
1.) Team chemistry. This could be a problem in the first few weeks of the year. All 30 NHL teams have new faces, but no roster has been more revamped than this one. Long term, this team is fine. The core is in place and the system is full of talent. But from now until November or December, there *may* be some growing pains as players get used to playing alongside each other. Don't be too hard on them; Remember, the Flyers went to the Cup as a 7th seed last year. The Hawks could play a similar role this year. A slow start wouldn't be the end of the world. I personally don't think they'll fall that low in the standings, but I can't discount the possibility with so many new players.
2.) Unproven newcomers. Heading into last season, the Hawks knew what they had at every position. There weren't going to be many surprises. This year is a different story. Can Viktor Stalberg's hockey ability catch up to his speed? Is Jack Skille an NHL player? Can a rotating trio of John Scott, Jordan Hendry and Nick Boynton hold their own as the 3rd defense pairing? Is Nick Leddy ready for top 4 minutes in Campbell's absence? These are just a few of the questions that will be answered starting on Thursday. If most of the answers are yes, the Hawks can repeat. If not......
3.) Possible lack of depth. From an organizational standpoint, the Hawks have phenomenal depth. If someone can't hack it in the NHL, players like Kyle Beach, Morin, and Igor Makarov are ready to fill their spot. The potential depth problem I'm referring to is on the game day roster. One of the things that made the Hawks so dominant last year was their ability to roll four dangerous lines. John Madden played 4th line center last season. There were games where Dustin Byfuglien played 4th line wing. That depth is downright scary. This year, there won't be 3-time Stanley Cup champions and Conn Smythe candidates skating on the fourth line. Can Fernando Pisani, Jake Dowell, and Bryan Bickel play well enough to give Joel Quenneville the confidence to skate them in key situations? The bottom six's ability to contribute will go a long way toward keeping this team in title contention.
The bottom line? If the returning players lead by example and the newcomers do their jobs, the Blackhawks will once again contend for a Stanley Cup. The talent is there at the most important positions, they have a veteran goalie who is hungry for a title, and the young core should be better than ever.
Now only 73 hours until questions become answers.