Hawk Talk: It's time to get real

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Hawk Talk: It's time to get real

Monday, Oct 3, 2011
Posted: 12:36 p.m. Updated: 3:57 p.m.
By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Unless you're into exhibition wins and losses, the Blackhawks probably couldn't have asked for much more from their preseason. Provided Dave Bolland and Ben Smith return to practice early this week, as Joel Quenneville predicted Sunday, the most important thing was to enter the regular season healthy. If you don't ask Viktor Stalberg, they've done that, and Quenneville even indicated he might be back before the projected three weeks from Wednesday's apparent knee-on-knee collision. They just have to hope the Patrick Sharp appendectomy becomes the most significant of their freaky, quirky health encounters this season.

That holds true for the road ahead. I can't help feeling that key injuries would be the only thing preventing this year's team from making a long, deep run into the playoffs again. There are some interesting new contenders and obstacles in the West this season, which we'll take a closer look at later this week. The seven practice games didn't always provide proof of what the Hawks need from some veterans, both new and returning. They'll need some to play their roles better, and hope the opening bell Friday in Dallas supplies that. Some need to play smarter and tighter. Others need to find that extra dose of mean-streak, or that final gear, or simply familiarity with another ample dose of off-season roster turnover. Just like any other preseason. But the pieces assembled, the talent on-hand, and the work of Quenneville and his staff should make this a pretty fun ride.

Two surprises emerged from the past 2-12 weeks: Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane. Saad doesn't turn 19 for another three weeks, but already has an NHL body and consistently made the right play during exhibitions, whether it put his name on the scoresheet or not. He could be back in juniors by, or shortly after, that Oct. 27th birthday, but his star rose quickly here after it fell to the second round in the June draft. Camp was just a continuation of what he displayed with the team's other prospects in July, as well as the rookie tournament early last month.

Despite early, widespread doubts, the Kane Experiment in the middle hasshowed promise. He had a rough day in the faceoff circle Sunday, goingup against more experienced centers, especially with Jonathan Toewsnot making the trip. He'll need to grow as he goes along in order tostay there, but he won slightly more than half of his faceoffs overthree games. Entering a season in which he hopes to elevate his gameinto the Hart Trophy conversation, he could do worse than playingbetween Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette.

The flip side of Kane-at-center is part of the reason it came about. Marcus Kruger didn't live up to what coaches and management expected these past couple of weeks and was outplayed by Brandon Pirri.Both wound up being sent to Rockford Monday, meaning (barring a latetrade or signing) fourth-line anchor duties could initially rest with Jamal Mayers or Ben Smith. Both Kane and Sharp would not be used at center at the same time, unless it's an emergency.

The Corey Crawford we saw in his three starts looked very much like the one we saw carry the team down the stretch last season, easing Sophomore Slump concerns of some. So what would the start of a Blackhawks season be without some goalie angst (Turco, Niemi, Huet, Khabibulin, etc.)? This one fell to the backup decision that went to Ray Emery Monday afternoon.

He caught some tough breaks, but made mistakes of his own, both in decision-making and rebound control. After not finding takers this summer and coming here on a tryout deal, he likely did not raise his value much in other teams' eyes. But he's taken a team to the Stanley Cup Finals and was very sharp when Anaheim needed it most down the stretch last season after Jonas Hiller was sidelined. That came approximately a year after hip surgery that most people thought would end his career. Some respected, experienced observers expressed concern over a drop in his quickness during camp, even compared to last spring's duty with the Ducks.

More time in Rockford certainly can't hurt Alexander Salak, who had the more impressive camp, but owns just two games of NHL experience, two years ago. Would he be able to handle the backup role like Antti Niemi did a couple of years ago? He played only 32 (roughly half) of his Swedish Elite team's games a year ago, but enjoyed his best season. In the end, the decision was Emery, with the trust his game will improve as he continues working with Stephane Waite and the Hawks' staff. This time a year ago, he was shedding crutches. If he can overcome that, Hawks brass feels he can find a way to regain the form he reached just six months ago.

The good news is the NHL preseason is the shortest of all major sports. The bad news is it still doesn't provide clear answers to every single question we've had.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

This is public service announcement regarding Alex DeBrincat and his potential this season with the Blackhawks:

Tap the brakes.

We’ve relayed this address a few times the past few seasons, most notably with Teuvo Teravainen as people eagerly anticipated his professional debut. We’re pretty sure when he was recalled for the first time, exultant trumpets played faintly in the background. But it bears repeating now with DeBrincat, who might or might not do fantastic things right out of training camp.

This warning, however, comes not only because DeBrincat might not be ready for the grand stage play-wise. It’s also because the Blackhawks might not have room for him.

Take a look at CapFriendly.com for the Blackhawks’ current situation: As they enter the fall they’re roughly $35,000 over the $75 million salary cap, but it’s not so much about money as it is the roster setup. There are 22 players currently listed on the Blackhawk’s CapFriendly roster, but only five defensemen. Also, of the 14 forwards listed, only one could be sent to Rockford without going through waivers (Nick Schmaltz).

So if there’s no room for DeBrincat, don’t be surprised.

Still, it’s going to be interesting to see what DeBrincat does at training camp this fall. You understand why the hype is there. DeBrincat is coming off three stellar seasons with the Erie Otters, with whom he had 127 points (65 goals, 62 assists) last season. DeBrincat is hopeful that a strong training camp could lead to opportunity, but he understands it might not be right away.

“I’m confident in my abilities,” DeBrincat said. “But they have a plan for me and I’ll do whatever they want me to do. I’ll stick with their plan.”

But the Blackhawks will take the slow-and steady approach with him as they did with past younger players. He’s only 19 years old, so there’s no need to rush his development. Playing time in the American Hockey League could be very beneficial for him as he makes the jump from the OHL to the pros. As former Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said earlier this summer, dealing with bigger and stronger players at this level is going to be the toughest hurdle for DeBrincat.

“It’s not that he’s afraid; he’s very good at battles. But just playing against the opposition, against five strong, fast players and just finding out how much time he has, where the room is,” Knoblauch said in early June. “One-on-one battles in our league, there are strong guys and he does fairly well. But when you have a unit of guys, it makes the game a little more difficult.”

DeBrincat will have his time with the Blackhawks. It just might not be right away, and for several reasons, including the current roster setup. So let’s tap the brakes. For now, anyway.

Boston University coach predicts breakout year for Blackhawks prospect Chad Krys

Boston University coach predicts breakout year for Blackhawks prospect Chad Krys

Chad Krys was like any other freshman college hockey player last season. He had his ups and downs and improved as the season continued. In a few months the Blackhawks prospect will be heading to Boston University for his sophomore year, and his coach believes he can be one of college’s best defensemen next season.

“Now that he’s comfortable and knows what’s expected of him, I don’t want to put too much pressure on him but I think he can have a breakout year,” said Boston Terriers coach David Quinn. “He’s played a lot of hockey, and I really think he has the elite talent, the work ethic continues to improve and his conditioning really improved.”

Krys, the Blackhawks’ second-round selection (45th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft, is working toward that at this week’s Blackhawks prospect camp. Krys was part of what Quinn said was the youngest team in the country last season. The Terriers, who had nine freshmen in their lineup, fell to Minnesota-Duluth in the West Regional last March.

Even through the ups and downs, the lessons were valuable.

“Like coach Quinn said, our biggest problem was our immaturity but we couldn’t help that. We were all 18 and 19 years old. But I think it’ll be good for us having a lot of guys coming back and being returning players,” said Krys, who added the accelerated learning curve should help, too. “Going through that with everyone, especially in my class, there were a lot of us in a similar situation, trying to get to the next level. So I think we experienced a lot of team things.”

As a freshman, Krys had five goals and six assists in 39 games for the Terriers. He said he focused on trying to improve his overall defense last season, and Quinn said he took steps forward in that department.

“He’s always been a really good, gifted player and had the puck an awful lot. But most kids as they climb the hockey ladder, they haven’t had to defend a lot because they’ve had the puck a lot. At the higher level you have to play both ends of the rink,” Quinn said. “He had better defense, particularly off the rush and he did a better job down low defending. He also did a better job getting involved offensively.”

Considering Quinn’s outlook of Krys, it’s no surprise he’s pegging the young defenseman to be one of the Terriers’ leaders next season and beyond. Krys has an affable personality — at the 2016 NHL Draft he brought his GoPro and interviewed Alex DeBrincat, who was selected six picks prior to Krys. That, combined with his play make him a strong potential leader. Krys is fine with being that guy.

“That first year you’re a freshman and you’re just trying to find your way,” he said. “The second year I want to be more dynamic and more of a go-to guy for the team.”

All the potential is there for Krys to have a strong future with the Blackhawks – “I’d be more surprised if he didn’t play than he did. He’s a legit prospect,” Quinn said. Until then, his coach feels Krys is on the cusp of having a big season with Boston.

“The jump to college hockey’s big, and he’s feeling his way through it. He had a good first half but a better second half,” Quinn said. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t be one of the better defensemen in all of college hockey.”