Mike Kostka and Ryan Stanton have got acquainted through their Chicago Blackhawks training camp time.
The two defensemen have gotten to know each other while staying at a downtown hotel, at which there aren’t many prospects remaining. They grabbed dinner together on Wednesday night. It’s all part of the camp bonding experience.
“He’s an awesome guy,” Stanton said of Kostka. “I consider myself buddies with him now. It’s definitely a friendly competition.”
Oh yeah, about that competition, the one that’s pitting Stanton and Kostka against each other for the eighth defenseman spot the Blackhawks are planning to go with to start the regular season. Yes, it is a friendly one; both agree on that. But to get on this roster, each will do what’s necessary to secure that final spot.
Kostka will play on Saturday night when the Blackhawks close out their preseason schedule against the Washington Capitals. Part of that could be because Kostka missed about a week after a nasty hit from Detroit forward Teemu Pulkkinen. Kostka also has NHL experience; he played 35 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Coach Joel Quenneville said he’ll look at several factors in considering each.
“Sometimes there other things to consider as well,” he said. “Kostka had a lot of NHL games last year. Sometimes you may be going more on their history than what you see now. Sometimes that goes into the equation when you know, all things being equal, there are other things to measure.”
Glean from that what you like, but it sounds like Kostka’s got the edge.
Kostka, who was a free agent this past summer, figured he’d be selected by a team that had struggled and needed to build depth at defenseman, not a winning team that already had plenty of it. Still, he was sold on the Blackhawks.
“All my conversations here, it was indicated that if I put my best foot forward, there could possibly be an opportunity,” he said. “It turned out to be a quality option.”
As far as competing with new friends, Kostka said that’s just part of the process.
“In a way, you’re pulling for each other but you’re pulling against each other. It’s a strange dynamic,” he said. “No one is out to get anyone. We’re all in the same bot and understand how tough and stressful the time can be.”
The selection process is nearing its end. There are just a few practices and one preseason game remaining before the Blackhawks make their final roster selections, including that final one at defenseman. Whoever that eighth defenseman is, it’s unlikely he’ll get a ton of playing time; seven return from last season. Perhaps that eighth is rotated in to give starters a break, given last year’s long playoff run and the potential for another lengthy spring trek.
Even if it’s very limited playing time, it’s worth it.
“Obviously you want to play every game. But it’s long schedule with 82 games, and if you get an opportunity to get in the lineup want to take advantage of it,” Stanton said. “You always have to be on your toes. You never know who will get a chance, right?”