Can you believe it's hockey season again? The Blackhawks hosted their training camp festival this weekend, including a practice in front of a STANDING ROOM ONLY crowd. Yes...a standing room only practice. Tonight, the Blackhawks begin their preseason in Winnepeg vs the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Typically, elite NHL teams don't worry too much about preseason hockey, but with so many spots available on the roster, Preseason 2010 is a big deal for the Blackhawks and many of their players.
There are a few guys with guaranteed roster spots. Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell and Tomas Kopecky are pretty much guaranteed forward spots on the opening night roster.
On the blue line, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Brian Campbell make up a very stong top four.
The goaltending tandem of Marty Turco and Corey Crawford are a lock barring a complete meltdown by Crawford. Hannu Toivonen has a slight chance to make the team as the backup, but again, it would have to be under an extreme circumstance. As far as Cristobal Huet goes, Joel Quenneville said he won't be at camp. He's not an option.
That leaves 4 forward spots and 2 defensive spots to sort out in the preseason.
Here are a few of the players to keep a close eye on during the preseason.
Jake Dowell : Dowell should slide in nicely to the 4th line center role. In fact, many Hawks fans thought he was a better option than Colin Fraser (now with Edmonton) ever was. He plays a physical game, and will do whatever it takes. Of the prospects I will list, Dowell would be the least surprising to make the team.
Jack Skille : Skille was the Hawks' first round pick (7th overall) in 2005. The arrivals of Toews and Kane, who were drafted after Skille (06 and 07 respectively), make it seem as if Skille is not developing quickly enough. That's not quite the case. The Blackhawks have had a ton of forward depth over the last two seasons, and Skille, who doesn't really fit a 4th line role, was simply the odd man out. He is offensively skilled, and a willing (if raw) defender. I think with a regular spot on one of the top 2 lines, 40 points is not too much to ask of Skille.
Kyle Beach : Beach, drafted 11th overall in 2008, is one of the most interesting prospects in the NHL. While his skill and ability have never been questioned, his head has been. He's a hot head, and very immature. If he can somehow get his head together, he could be Byfuglien 2.0. He's big, nasty, and can score. For him to make the team, he's going to have to WIN a roster spot. His cap hit is twice as high as other prospects. While the Hawks have cap space, every dollar counts. If he wants a job...he's going to have to take it by force.
Viktor Stalberg : Stalberg was acquired in this summer's Kris Versteeg trade with Toronto. He scored 9 goals in 40 games for the Leafs last season. He has incredible speed and is willing to go to the net to score goals. I think he will be a major contributor to the team offensively this season, but like Beach, nothing will be handed to him.
Fernando Pisani : Signed as a free agent this offseason, Pisani will fight for a 4th line role. If healthy, he's a valuable penalty killer with some playoff experience. Staying healthy, however, has been a problem for him. Pisani struggles with ulcerative colitis, which is a disease that is hard to control. It had him out of the game, and unable to lift a bench press bar at his lowest point. Time will tell if he can stay healthy. The Hawks signed him to a one way, NHL deal, so they expect him to play.
Ryan Potulny : Another free agent signing, Potulny had a nice offensive season for the Oilers last year. Granted, they were terrible, and on a terrible team SOMEONE has to score (cough**Kyle Calder**cough). Look for Potulny to be one of the first call ups should an injury occur.
Igor Makarov : A 2006 second round pick, Makarov has spent his career in Russia. While his offensive stats don't look impressive, Makarov plays a more "North American" style. He's looked very strong in rookie camps and preseason games, and he could be a dark horse for a 3rd line winger spot.
Jordan Hendry : Hendry was a major part of the Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup season. He played in 43 regular season games, and 15 playoff games. He extremely one dimensional, and will never develop much of an offensive game, but he's valuable in his dependability. Ideally, he'd be the 7th defenseman, but he may start the season as an everyday player.
John Scott : Here's all you need to know. 6'8...258. Scott is a huge, plodding, physical defenseman. He's here to be an enforcer. Sure to be a fan favorite, it remains to be seen if he can play every day for an NHL contender. He can also play a little bit of wing, so look for him up front from time to time.
Nick Boynton : Boynton was acquired via trade last season, but didn't really have much of an impact on the regular season. He actually only played 3 playoff games for the Hawks, but he was on the ice when Kane scored the Cup winning goal, and will fill in right where Brent Sopel left off. Boynton is a veteran, former All Star defenseman. He's physical, and willing to do the little things. At this point, he's the #5 defenseman.
Shawn Lalonde : Lalonde, 20, is a budding offensive defenseman. He will be a major player on the Blackhawks' blue line for years to come. It remains to be seen if he's ready now, but he will be given every chance to win a job. Don't be surprised if he does...even if it's later in the season. Once he's up, he stays up.
So there are just a few of the guys to keep an eye on when the Hawks take the ice this preseason. Remember, the first game is WEDNESDAY! Get ready Hawk fans...hockey is back.
JOEL QUENNEVILLE SIGNS EXTENSION :
Joel Quenneville agreed to a 3 year contract extension today. This morning, he joined the Score 670's Danny Mac Show. Listen to the interview here, and the Danny Mac Show Mondat through Friday, 9am-1pm.
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