Chicago Blackhawks

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
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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' young players brimming with confidence

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks' young players brimming with confidence

Ryan Hartman is entering this training camp with a much higher level of confidence. Having a spot on this roster, something he wasn’t sure he’d have entering last fall, helps. But the confidence is a byproduct of his entire rookie season and every experience it brought with it.

“You get a full season under your belt and you’re able to feel out the game, adjust your speed and your quickness to the pace of the NHL game,” he said. “Last year was a big step for all of us, coming in here this year knowing what to expect, knowing how to play their game right and thinking of what to do on the ice.”

As several of the Blackhawks embark on their second season in the NHL there’s more certainty in their approach, whether they’re already part of this roster (Hartman and Nick Schmaltz) or trying to get one of the few coveted spots remaining (John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza).

When Schmaltz entered camp last fall he was fresh out of college and admittedly apprehensive – “I was nervous coming in, didn’t know if it was going to work,” he said at the team’s convention in July. There has been none of that this past week. A stronger, more confident Schmaltz has emerged, one that’s approached coach Joel Quenneville enough to give him a shot at the second-line center role.

“Yeah, it’s just familiarity with the coaching and the players,” he said. “You just know what to expect, you kind of come in with a good mindset and start off on the right track right away.”

Much like 2016, Hinostroza is on the bubble again this fall. But unlike last September he’s not sweating what may or may not happen out of camp.

“This year I feel like I’m more mentally stronger, more mature,” he said. “I don’t feel pressure at all. Maybe a year ago I did, thinking, ‘what are these guys going to do?’ But this year… I’m trying to focus on myself and I’m confident where I’m at. I made some improvements. I’m just going to believe in myself and the rest will play out.”

Hayden, on the same bubble as Hinostroza, got a taste of the NHL late last spring following his senior season at Yale. It was a small sample size but Hayden nevertheless got a good idea of what to work on entering the fall – improving his speed was a big focus – and what to expect overall.

“It’s so fast at this level. So yeah, it definitely helped playing games at the end of the year. If anything, told myself I belong at this level. There are familiar faces at camp, and it’s my job to prove I deserve to be on the team,” he said. “No [pressure]; you just control what you can and that’s my play. I put the work in for the offseason and now I have to play my game.”

Hartman’s biggest adjustment came with the speed, too – “it’s a completely different level from Rockford to here, the pace of play and how quickly everything happens,” he said. That, and being confident enough to know when to hold the puck and when to give it up.

“Right away I was getting the puck and wanting to get it to someone else just so I didn’t make a mistake. Now I’m trying to make plays and trying to better the team,” Hartman said. “I definitely feel pretty good this year.”

For the Blackhawks who got their first taste here last season, the wide-eyed part of the NHL indoctrination is over. Now to keep building on the experience. And the confidence.

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.