Hawk Talk: Coach Q, staff facing difficult choices

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Hawk Talk: Coach Q, staff facing difficult choices

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011
Posted: 5:48 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com Blackhawks InsiderFollow @TraMyersCSN
VIDEO: Pirri scores a pair of goals, again
VIDEO: Emery upset over his performance
READ: Sharp hopes to play in opener

Decisions, decisions.

We've just about reached that time of the preseason, folks. The Chicago Blackhawks will play their final preseason game Sunday afternoon when they take on the Washington Capitals. After that, it's time to make some choices: who stays and who goes?

Remember when we thought the only big choice the Blackhawks would have at the start of preseason would be at No. 2 goaltender? Yeah, it still is. But throw in some injuries, some impressive youngsters, and the Blackhawks brass have a few more decisions to make.

Coach Joel Quenneville always says making decisions is a good problem to have. So let's take a look at some players and wonder: What Will Q Do?

Ray Emery vs. Alex Salak

The Blackhawks brought in Emery as a viable veteran candidate for the No. 2 goaltending spot. It's a feel-good story, for sure: goalie seems finished, goalie has successful hip surgery, goalie resurrects career. But will it happen that way?

Emery said his body feels good, that his game feels right, but the results have not been there in preseason games. Sure, some of those goals were flukey and he didn't always get help in front of him. But the bottom line is, he hasn't made the stops.

Then there's Salak. Yes, he's young. No, he hasn't played a ton of games on this side of the pond. But is that transition from European to the smaller North American ice really that hard for a goaltender? Salak had his full game last Sunday in Detroit. He didn't get a lot of help either, but he still stopped 30 of 33 shots.

The Blackhawks will probably still go with Emery, allowing Salak to hone his skills in Rockford. They like Emery's veteran status and NHL experience. And the game results could still come. But remember, Blackhawks: the last two guys who started the season as backups, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, didn't have so much NHL experience. They didn't turn out so bad, either.

Marcus Kruger

Quenneville hasn't been overwhelming in assessing Kruger this preseason, and the young Swede hasn't exactly separated himself from the pack. Here's where going from European ice to ours requires adjustment time. Kruger admitted as much last Sunday before the Blackhawks game in Detroit -- "it's a lot different. The surface and the game here is a lot quicker."

Still, injury issues may keep the center up here early. But with other options at center -- Patrick Kane's been doing just fine there on the No. 2 line -- sending Kruger to Rockford for some work may be a good idea once the roster is fully healthy again.

Patrick Kane

OK, not a roster decision as much as a position decision. The Kane-to-center announcement had us all and surprised last Sunday -- I have the five seconds of dead air on our recorders to prove it. And while it's just been two games, the experiment has been pretty good. That includes Friday night, when Kane's group was up against star Pens such as Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Quenneville still likes what he sees. So it's worth seeing more.
Brandon Saad and Brandon Pirri

They're young, they're talented and they're making some of the lower-line Blackhawks look over their shoulders. And since the Blackhawks' forward corps are bumped and bruised, they've earned at least a few looks at the start of this season. Let's see what they can do, shall we?

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year. 

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Nick Schmaltz will be joining Blackhawks teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk on Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the club announced Thursday.

It will be his first career appearance on the U.S. men's national team and third time representing his country in world-championship play, most recently winning a bronze medal at the 2016 World Juniors. He scored two goals and added six assists in seven games during that tournament.

Schmaltz just completed his first professional season with the Blackhawks, where he tallied six goals and 22 assists in 61 games. 

After the year ended, he spoke about the possibility of playing for USA in this tournament and what it would mean to him.

"I think it's a great tournament," Schmaltz said. "You get to play with a lot of great players. Look like a lot of great players are going to the tournament, so it's definitely a big stage. It would be a fun tournament."

The roster now includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Among the other NHLers going for the Americans: Danny DeKeyser, Noah Hanifin, Jimmy Howard, Dylan Larkin, Anders Lee, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Murphy, Brock Nelson and Jacob Trouba.

Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger (Sweden) and Artemi Panarin (Russia) will also compete in the tournament, which begins May 5 and runs until May 21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.