Hawk Talk: Summer camping with the kids

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Hawk Talk: Summer camping with the kids

Tuesday, July 13, 2010
10:27 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

NO LONGER "DATELINING" FROM WINNIPEG -- So while Kustok's out having fun, skating with Blackhawks Youth Campers, here I am, writing about the other Youth Campers who are trying to skate regularly at the United Center this winter.

Got back in town Monday morning, just in time for the last of the four weekend sessions for the top Hawks prospects. Niklas Hjalmarsson was here just a couple years ago. Now, just after that final session, we learn he's sticking around at 3.5 million per for the next four years.

I was only able to watch closely early Friday (the first day), then the final game Monday - so a lot happened in between when I was visiting the captain and the Cup in Winnipeg. But here's what stood out:

Shawn Lalonde has a poise and presence about him. The 20-year-old '08 third-rounder seems to me the best bet to make the roster this October of anyone from camp. He was paired with Nick Leddy, the Wild first-rounder last year who moves well but seemed smallish on the ice to me. He is listed as 5'11, so maybe it's just my eyes. Still he caught the eye of General Manager Stan Bowman, who saw him for an extended period in person for the first time since the Barker-Johnsson trade.

Brothers Kevin (this year's 1st-rounder) and Jimmy (Toronto's '09 2nd-rounder) Hayes definitely seem to have NHL-level upside. The numbers backed them up, combining for seven goals and eight points playing together - just as they will for Boston College this fall. The G.M. called them "really impressive and noticeable. They jumped out as two guys - watching the games - who were difference-makers."

Bowman also stopped himself once to praise last year's 5th-rounder, Marcus Kruger, who scored a sweet goal on Monday. He was a finalist for the Swedish Elite League Rookie of the Year. Jeremy Morin, the top Atlanta prospect picked up in the ByfuglienEagerSopel deal - scored three times over the weekend and seemed to live up to the billing.

Your leading scorer? Terry Broadhurst, pride of Orland Park and Providence High School. He served some Midget time with the Chicago Chill and when he scored his fourth goal (and 7th point) Monday - family members in the front row at Johnny's West balcony in their lime green "Broadhurst Enterprises" T-shirts let out a loud cheer. He's heading into his second year at Nebraska-Omaha.

The goalies? Tough weekend for last month's 2nd-rounder, Kent Simpson - 16 goals in the equivalent of 7.5 periods. The best? Calvin Heeter (Ohio St.), who permitted just three goals over the same playing time.

Unfortunately, the other thing that stuck out was Kyle Beach's lack of offense. More fights than points (one assist) after his 52-goal season at Spokane. The '08 number-one says his hands just didn't feel right all weekend. Maybe it was all the punches. His WHL numbers say he can do it, and a lot of fans are hoping that offensive potential and his mean streak are ready to make Chicago home, if his salary cap hit of 1.2 million doesn't become a deciding factor.

Top 2009 pick Dylan Olsen looked much more a factor after adding 15 pounds, but it looked like even more, from when we saw him a year ago. He sounded resigned afterwards that he'd be spending a sophomore year at Minnesota-Duluth, while Leddy left the same impression about a second season at the University of Minnesota.

But a lot can happen between now and the time these guys are "supposed" to be ready. Unknowns rise. The guys you thought were "ticketed" sometimes never find that final, necessary gear. Check out the Cup roster. Burish (9th round), Byfuglien (8th round), Brouwer (7th), Campbell and Sopel (6th), Versteeg and Hjalmarsson (4th). Hendry, Madden, and Niemi all went undrafted.

While Bowman was excited about what he saw overall from the 72 players and said there were more that were potentially NHL-ready than he expected, the question over the coming weeks remains how many he may have to rely upon for his defending champs. I'm guessing he wasn't planning a vacation this summer, because the Cap headaches remain after Hjalmarsson got what he probably deserves. Now, it's about Niemi, or potentially having to find a replacement in order to fill out the roster after the first couple of lines. If not Niemi, your most experienced free agent goalies were also expensive. But as two weeks of free agency winds down, safe to say Marty Turco won't make the 5.7 million he did last season and Jose Theodore the 4.5 million. It's also safe to say the Niemi Camp is aiming for a 4 million salary after the non-Cup-winning Jaroslav Halak signed for just short of that with St. Louis.

Potential lineup replacements Dowell, Lalonde, Crawford, Hendry and Bickell all made between 500-grand and a million last season. Beach and Skille more than a mill.

I absolutely hated math in school. I'm glad I'm not Stan.

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya is headed to the Eastern Conference.

The 35-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. The contract could be worth up to $1.25 million with incentives.

Oduya, who the Blackhawks re-acquired prior to the trade deadline last season from the Dallas Stars, finished with two goals and seven assists in 52 games between the two teams.

It comes to no one's surprise that the Blackhawks didn't re-sign the veteran defenseman.

After being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season by the Nashville Predators, Stan Bowman has made it clear the Blackhawks are headed in a different direction, and their offseason has been plenty of busy so far. Headline deals included trading Oduya's linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

Oduya heads to a Senators team which got ousted in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.