Chicago Blackhawks

Evaluating Saturday's depth signings, and where Blackhawks stand after Day 1 of free agency

Evaluating Saturday's depth signings, and where Blackhawks stand after Day 1 of free agency

The Blackhawks are in what’s become a typical offseason situation for them: a few needs to fill, not a lot of cash with which to fill them. With four more signings on Saturday, however, the Blackhawks hope to give themselves some depth and options this season.

Wilmette native Tommy Wingels signed a one-year deal on Saturday, as did fellow forward Lance Bouma. The Blackhawks also signed goaltender Jean-François Bérubé and defenseman Jordan Oesterle to two-year contracts. The moves give the Blackhawks more options and all four players are in their 20s – Bérubé and Oesterle are both 25, Bouma is 27 and Wingels is 29.

Wingels brings that drive-to-the-net element that the Blackhawks had for most of the regular season but were sorely lacking in the playoffs. He said he talked with general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville about his role. Whatever that may be, outside of going to the dirty areas, getting the chance to play for the hometown team is a thrill.

“Hearing from those guys meant a lot to me. When the offer did come, I spoke with my family and it was just a no-brainer. Such an unbelievable organization and what the Blackhawks mean to the city, I’m such a big fan of it,” Wingels said. “I’m a good bottom-six player, expected to bring energy, [play] a straight-line game and get into the dirty areas. Watching the team, watching how the team fared in the playoffs, that’s a piece that was missing. I’m sure they’re adding others but I think that’s an area I can help out and get to the net, score some dirty goals and be a difficult player to play against.”

Wingels can play either center or wing, and being a right-handed shot was also an asset.

[MORE: Blackhawks bolster depth with flurry of moves]

“Whether he’s full time in the middle, I’m not sure. That’s something Joel [Quenneville] will figure out. We definitely like having a right-handed shot to take faceoffs and [Patrick Sharp] is the same way. He played center long ago, but we see him more on the wing here. But Patrick certainly has the ability to take faceoffs, too,” Bowman said. “We don’t have a lot of right-handed centers here and we wanted to add to that area. It’s probably more on the wing for Tommy but he has experience in the middle and I think as things go along, he could end up there.”

Bouma, meanwhile, should bring a gritty element the Blackhawks have been lacking. This is also a welcomed fresh start for Bouma; the Calgary Flames bought out the final year of his previous contract on Friday.

“Anytime you end like that it’s tough… because you’re signed to a deal and you want to prove them right on what they signed you to. But I had a great run there, made a lot of great friends in the city and on the team,” Bouma said. “I’m just looking forward and obviously winning here and having fun here and meeting new teammates. It’s going to be a fun time for sure.”

With Bérubé the Blackhawks gain some depth at goaltending. Anton Forsberg is likely the Blackhawks’ backup goaltender but Bowman wanted another option. Last year when Corey Crawford was out with appendicitis, Scott Darling started all 11 games in his absence.

Bowman wouldn’t say what else the Blackhawks could add during this free-agency period. They’re currently a few million over the $75 million salary cap – teams are allowed to be 10 percent over it until the regular-season begins – and are expected to make another move. They’ll still also see what happens regarding Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve possibility; Bowman didn’t foresee that being a problem, and it’s likely to be applied early in the regular season.

The Blackhawks still have concerns at defense, where replacing Niklas Hjalmarsson will be difficult. Again, as said above, we’ll see if the Blackhawks make any more moves or, once Hossa’s LTIR can be applied, look at options then. Right now there’s a lot of youth there, from guys who have gotten some work with the Blackhawks (Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling, Erik Gustaffson) to those who haven’t Jan Rutta, Ville Pokka and Oesterle).

“The opportunity will be there for the young guys to show which one belongs or if a few belong, that would be great,” Bowman said. “That’s what we’ll figure out in camp. It’ll be a competitive time for these guys to put their best foot forward and see who’s ready for the job.”

Blackhawks' Alexandre Fortin finding form again after offseason surgery

Blackhawks' Alexandre Fortin finding form again after offseason surgery

Alexandre Fortin was grateful to be back on the ice this weekend, back in Chicago where he wowed the Blackhawks last fall and nearly found a spot on the regular-season roster.

His thoughts are on repeating that camp performance. What he has to keep his mind clear of, however, is the sports hernia and surgery that sidelined him for part of the summer.

“It’s normal. You don’t want to get hurt again,” he said. “When you’re starting in camp like that, everyone’s good so you just have to get to a high level quick. At the same time, you just have to [listen to] your body and do things right.”

When Fortin has been on the ice, however, he’s been impressive. Following Sunday’s outing coach Joel Quenneville talked of the young forward showing the abilities that made him such a pleasant camp surprise in 2016.

“He’s coming off that injury, missed a day and change but [Sunday] all of a sudden he had his legs, his stride back,” Quenneville said. “He’s a fast player who can back off defensemen and this year, this camp, at least we got him out there and captured that speed. He can be useful.”

Fortin had sports hernia surgery in late June; he was present at the Blackhawks’ prospect camp in July but, because of the recent surgery, was limited to off-ice workouts. He was back on ice at the team’s prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich., where the Blackhawks claimed the tournament title. That helped Fortin feel more comfortable again as he returned for his second Blackhawks camp, but he’ll keep an eye on things to make sure he doesn’t re-aggravate his hernia.

“I’m in good hands here and they know what to do with me,” I just do what they ask me. Camp is long, so we’ll just keep improving every day.”

The good thing is the Blackhawks are again happy with what Fortin is doing, even in his limited work at camp. The problem is there probably won’t be room for him, at least in the early going. The Blackhawks’ depth signings in early July mean a lot of one-way contracts, and other young guys – Alex DeBrincat and John Hayden among them – are also vying for a roster spot.

Fortin will mind his injury but still wants to go through this camp the same way he did the last one, playing his strongest game and looking for an opportunity. Whether it happens now or later, he’s happy to get it.

“I mean, camp is long so you have to focus on what you can see,” Fortin said. “Like [general manager] Stan Bowman and Joel said at the beginning of camp, everybody’s here to make the team and just try to find a way to do that. That’s my plan and I’ll do what I can do and see after.”

BRIEFLY

As they usually do, the Blackhawks will send most of their young players to their first preseason game on Tuesday night in Columbus.  Asked if he would send the Alex DeBrincat-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane combo that has been together the last few days at camp, Quenneville said, “maybe one of those three will go.”

The Blackhawks will start cutting their training camp roster either Wednesday or Thursday.

Blackhawks tidbits: Anisimov on the move, DeBrincat in the 'lottery spot'

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks tidbits: Anisimov on the move, DeBrincat in the 'lottery spot'

There are very few things ever set in stone but entering this training camp, Artem Anisimov at second-line center was as solid a bet as you could make. But Nick Schmaltz’s strong camp has coach Joel Quenneville thinking, tinkering and considering the 21-year-old for that spot alongside Patrick Kane.

A bit of a surprise, for sure, but Quenneville likes the chemistry of Schmaltz and Kane, who have been skating together for part of the summer. As for Anisimov, if he’s the third-line center, he won’t sulk or change his game.

“I’m just going to go out and play and try to score goals and make plays,” he said following Sunday’s scrimmages.

Anisimov is back to 100 percent after admitting he wasn’t that when the Blackhawks entered the first-round series against the Nashville Predators last spring. The center had suffered a leg injury vs. Montreal in mid-March that sidelined him until Game 1 of the playoffs. He’s ready to go after the long offseason, although who his playing partners will be is now somewhat up in the air. On Sunday Anisimov centered Ryan Hartman and Patrick Sharp as Quenneville continues to look at options, not only for the top two lines, but to bolster bottom-six depth as well.

“I think every team needs good depth at center and have a strong three or four lines,” Anisimov said. “It’s helpful in a team game.”

DEBRINCAT’S CHANCE

Alex DeBrincat teamed with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz during Sunday’s scrimmages, as Quenneville gave the 19-year-old a chance in what he’s calling this season’s “lottery spot.” It was just a first glance at the trio but Quenneville liked what he saw.

“The upside of that could be really big,” said Quenneville. “He’s one of those guys who his instincts are high and he’s playing with a couple of guys who have the same type of instincts. The reading and anticipation off plays, communicating without having to communicate, they know where it’s going to go next and that’s something that will only get better as they get accustomed to playing together.”

Quenneville added that, “we’ll have a couple of days to look at him a little more.” The Blackhawks’ first preseason game is Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

ROZSIVAL’S STATUS

General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday that defenseman Michal Rozsival did not pass his training-camp physical. Quenneville specified on Sunday that Rozsival has an upper-body injury. Asked if Rozsival could miss the season, Quenneville said, “we’ll see.”