Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010
By Chris Boden
Rejoining the hockey world didn't seem quite right over the past week. After all, the season just ended, like yesterday...it still felt like summer...and my car was just getting used to not driving itself to the United Center.
But Saturday night, a week after the Blackhawks took the ice for training camp, it started feeling normal again. A little chill was in the air walking into the UC. Once inside, the guys with the winged wheel on their chests prompted the usual chants from Hawks fans, even if their roster was more K-Wings than Red Wings. And there were a preseason franchise-record 20,000-plus in the house, booing even the announcement of a Chris Chelios Heritage Night. Hey, he's a member of Detroit management now.
Two more roster moves came Sunday to chop the camp body count to 35, as defenseman Shawn Lalonde and forward Chris DiDomenico were sent to Rockford. We're essentially halfway through what's a two-week minicamp, because after next Sunday's final warmup, it's time for the defending champs to crank it up. That phrase applies to the roster wanna-bes this week.
These exhibitions are an inexact science, occasionally grading prospects against other prospects, and other times against vets who'll teach 'em a lesson or two. Joel Quenneville has an interesting pool of candidates to choose from ahead of the puck-drop a week from Thursday in Denver. Some eye-openers in early scrimmages have quieted down in exhibitions. Others have stepped up. A year ago, Viktor Stalberg led the NHL in preseason scoring. Has he been doing enough other things to get noticed, even though he hasn't scratched the scoresheet yet? Does the same apply to Igor Makarov despite this being his first NHL camp, and the fact he found himself with a few good looks Saturday night? Is what we're seeing thus far out of perhaps the Next Jeremy Who Wears 27 transferable to a six-month NHL grind, 19 years young or not?
Not only is Jeremy Morin's skill (and production to this point) impressive, but he added an eye-opener for me with about four minutes left Friday night in Detroit. He lined up the Wings' Jonathan Ericsson along the boards, and knocked him on his padded pants to create a turnover. I don't know if the kid's making Quenneville's decision easy or tough if there's more of that Morin the final four games.
The other 19-year-old in camp has also played like he wants to skip the Rockford part, and his teammates are saying Nick Leddy shouldn't be settling for that, based on the speed and poise he's showing.
Time is on their side, but with that in mind, the braintrust has to weigh whether the best menkids win roster spots against specific roles that may need filling. Do you give all the guys who've been working and waiting in Rockford some extra rope, and the benefit of the doubt? How important is - and what options are there - filling the need for physical presence? Did Ryan Potulny show he can provide some of the same things as the guy who used to wear number 16, whether as a wing or a fourth-line center?
Well, at least we're not talking about goalies. That'll certainly come along sometime over the next six months, but Marty Turco's home deut as a Blackhawk was a good one. Sure, Detroit was without its snipers, but he showed a quickness, confidence and good glove. There will be times he'll skip hearts a beat with his aggressive puck-handling, but it inspired a positive buzz, even some applause from the crowd, saving his teammates some skating. Every athlete reaches a stage where public (and sometimes personal) doubt about the quality of their game increases with age. Turco wanted "in" here, proven by the contract he signed. Saturday night, at least, he played - and carried himself - like a goalie looking to take charge and make people look elsewhere for any concerns.
After all, it seems like his head coach has more pressing decisions to make.
A final note: If you're not able to make it to the United Center for the home openerbanner raising against Detroit, we'll have some 90 minutes of pregame programming on Comcast SportsNet October 9th, starting at 6 p.m. with "Stanley's Summer Vacation," a half-hour journey of the Stanley Cup's time with individual players. It includes our trips to Winnipeg and Buffalo for the days Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane spent with the Cup in their hometowns. At 6:30, we'll be on the concourse again for an hour-long edition of "Chevy Blackhawks PreGame Live," which will include the banner ceremony.