Kane takes command when Blackhawks need him most

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Kane takes command when Blackhawks need him most

Jamal Mayers was choosing his words cautiously regarding Patrick Kane.

I have to be careful. I dont want his head to get any bigger than it already is, Mayers said jokingly after Saturdays practice.

All kidding aside, however, the veteran admires the 23-year-old Kanes recent role. Playing the No. 1 center position can be an unenviable task. But Kanes play there in the absence of Jonathan Toews has been stellar.

Ive been telling him for a couple weeks now that hes surprised me in raising his game, Mayers continued. Hes skating the best hes ever skated. And you add his vision and awareness on the ice and he has the opportunity to be the best player on the ice every night.

Kanes work lately could be measured in a few ways. The obvious is points: Kane has nine in his last nine games, including five (two goals, three assists) in his current four-game point streak. But thats just looking at the obvious. Kane has been skating well, is always a threat and is part of a strong top line with Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette.

And hes taken on some leadership, too.

I like the fact that hes absorbing responsibility without Johnny around, coach Joel Quenneville said. He knows the importance of the situation with our team, where we we're at and where we are today. He wants to make an impact on games and its been noticeable.

Viktor Stalberg agreed.

Hes had some stretches where hes struggled. Hes still a young guy; you kind of forget that sometimes. But the last couple games hes been great for us, he said. We needed someone to fill that first-line center void for Toews and hes been doing a good job with it.

Kane, for his part, doesnt feel hes doing anything different than normal. He said recently that he does feel good at center right now and its showing. But Kane said its been a team effort in Toews absence.

You see a lot of guys playing a lot of different roles now and its nice to see everybody step up, too, he said. Everyone knows we miss Johnny but theres no predicting when hell be back. We have to have different players step up, get a little bit more ice time and more opportunity. Its a good test for everyone.

That includes Kane. Hes still 23, still has years ahead of him. But at a time when hes needed to grow in his game and take charge, he has.

Hes definitely taken a step forward, Mayers said. And it hasnt gone unnoticed.

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Spencer Abbott enjoyed his short stint in Rockford, which came after he was acquired by the Blackhawks in February 2015. At the time, he thought staying here was his most likely plan.

Then he got an offer Frölunda in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘why not give it a shot? Maybe it’ll be a good experience and bring it back with me,’” said Abbott on Monday. “It was worth it, for sure. I have no regrets.”

Abbott, who’s back with the Blackhawks, had never been to Europe prior to getting that Frölunda offer. But his first trip across the pond was a good one as Abbott was part of Frölunda’s run to its Swedish and Champions hockey league titles. Abbott had 14 goals and 21 assists in 51 regular-season games. Abbott got plenty out of the games, but not nearly as much as he did in the team’s training camp.

“The first month and a half you’re over there, you’re there from 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] every day. I think over here there’s a rule against being here for more than 3-4 hours, but not over there. It’s like a 9-5 job for a month and a half, a lot of working out, a lot of bike riding. So for me, that was good because I had never been in that kind of shape before,” said Abbott, who added he’s trying to incorporate some of that into his routine here. “Training camps here are hard but they’re just different over there. There’s a lot of ice, bigger ice [overseas], so they really condition you. So my conditioning may be a bit better.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]​

As much as Abbott loved his time in Sweden, he ultimately wanted to be back in the NHL. So when the Blackhawks offered him a one-year deal, he jumped at it. He’s gotten off to a good start this training camp, scoring a few goals in the team’s early scrimmages.

“I wasn’t sure how it would play out, to be honest. I’m 28 and pretty early in the summer they were showing interest,” Abbott said. “This is one for the places I really wanted to come, because I did l really like the organization when I was here for that brief period of time. Now I get the full effect as long as they’ll have me. It’s such a good organization.”

Abbott probably could have kept playing overseas but he wanted another chance in the NHL. He’s happy it’s once again coming in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“It’s overwhelming. There are so many places to play hockey nowadays in Europe. There are tons of leagues over there. But it didn’t interest me,” he said. “I wanted to come back and give it one more shot.”

Blackhawks: Keith unlikely to play first four preseason games

Blackhawks: Keith unlikely to play first four preseason games

Duncan Keith was already deemed unlikely to play in many, if any, Blackhawks preseason games, when training camp opened. As of now, it doesn’t look like he’ll be in the first few.

Keith will probably not play in the Blackhawks’ first four preseason games, assistant coach Kevin Dineen said following Monday’s training camp sessions. As for whether or not Keith will play in any, that’s still up in the air.

“That’s a question that Dunc and the medical staff, Stan [Bowman], Joel [Quenneville], we’ll all get to that. I wouldn’t foresee him certainly in these first four games. I would say that’s not going to happen,” Dineen said. “We’ll let him keep progressing on his timetable that he’s on now.”

Keith has been participating in one practice each day but has not been in any of the scrimmages. Assistant coach Mike Kitchen said Keith has asked to skate in the team’s second practice each day – each session is about 20-25 minutes – but the Blackhawks have told him no. As of now, both Dineen and Kitchen figure Keith will be ready for the regular-season opener but the Blackhawks will continue to be prudent with him.

“He’s out there wheeling around, doing well,” Dineen said. “We had a good chat with him today. He feels like he has a lot of jump but not a lot of stamina right now. We’ll continue the way we’ve handled it so far. We’ll keep moving forward that way.”

Players returning soon

Patrick Kane, who was at the United Center on Monday afternoon, will skate with the Blackhawks on Tuesday. Defenseman Michal Kempny will also join Tuesday’s sessions. Dineen said Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin are expected to join the Blackhawks on Friday.

Neither Kane nor Kempny are expected to play Wednesday vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Pokka is back

Defenseman Ville Pokka, who played for Team Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, skated with the Blackhawks on Monday.

“Anybody coming back from Toronto over the last two weeks is going to have a heck of a lot of confidence,” Dineen said. “A young kid like that getting the chance to represent his country on the international stage is a great honor and a pick-me-up heading into training camp and the season.”

First cuts made

The Blackhawks made their first round of cuts on Monday, sending Radovan Bondra, John Dahlstrom, Nathan Noel and Roy Radke to their respective junior teams. The active roster is now at 57 players.