Yep...it's that time. I hesitate to say "already" because the combination of crap baseball and the NFL lockout made this offseason seem infinite. Well, it's finally over.
The Blackhawks travel to Saskatoon tonight to face the Edmonton Oilers. While the sarcastic hockey observers will tell you the hockey preseason doesn't matter, real hockey people know how important it is, especially for the Blackhawks this season. There are a lot of players fighting for very few available jobs. This preseason will be intense from start to finish as guys try to win a spot on the opening night roster. The Blackhawks will broadcast the game on ChicagoBlackhawks.com tonight.
Here is the roster traveling to Saskatoon tonight.:
FORWARDS: Brandon Saad, Ben Smith, Viktor Stalberg, David Toews, Jonathan Toews, Kyle Beach, Phillip Danault, Jimmy Hayes, Marcus Kruger, Jamal Mayers, Mark McNeill and Rostislav Olesz.
DEFENSEMEN: Steve Montador, John Scott, Ryan Stanton, Brian Fahey, Joe Lavin, Nick Leddy, Sami Lepisto.
GOALTENDERS: Ray Emery, Alexander Salak.
With the position battles in mind, here's a few guys to keep an eye on tonight:
Kyle Beach - The clock is ticking on this kid. He was a risky pick when the Hawks selected him 11th overall. His talent has always been there, but his character has been in question for as long as he's been on the NHL radar. For a kid with so much to gain, he's really shown very little in the limited looks he's gotten. He is, on paper, EXACTLY what the Hawks need...a big, physical, scoring winger capable of playing on the top two lines. This could be his last chance with the organization. If he doesn't show something here...he might find himself trying to prove himself to another team.
Brandon Saad - To me, Saad was the most impressive Blackhawk forward at Saturday's training camp festival. When you watch prospects battling other prospects, it's easy to see who has "it". Saad has it. He's very fast, and has nice hands. It's unlikely he will make the NHL roster this season, but he will be a Hawk in the coming years.
Marcus Kruger - Kruger is probably the odds on favorite for the 3rd or 4th line center job. He proved his NHL readiness in the playoffs last season. It's his job to lose at this point.
Steve Montador - While Daniel Carcillo is getting all of the offseason headlines, Montador is the Hawks' biggest offseason acquisition. He's a stay at home defenseman at his core, but can certainly contribute offensively when needed. In my opinion, he's one of the more underrated players in the league. He should shine in a #3 / #4 defensive role.
Nick Leddy - Look for Leddy to make a big jump this season. After riding the Rockford roller coaster last season, Leddy will be here from the very first drop of the puck. While he was impressive as a rookie last season, he was very raw. The additions of Montador and veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell will be huge in Leddy's development.
Both of Them - Ray Emery and Alexander Salak are in a straight up duel to win the backup job. While Emery is in camp on a tryout basis, I think it's his job to lose. The Hawks would like Salak to get some seasoning in the AHL before depending on him as a full time backup. If they play even, or even close to even, I think Emery gets a contract and the backup job. For what it's worth, Salak has been slightly better so far in scrimmages. But...you know...they're scrimmages.
The puck drops at 8pm on ChicagoBlackhawks.com or any of their official mobile apps. John Wiedeman and Troy Murray will handle the call.