Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp will do whatever it takes to win another Stanley Cup in return to Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp will do whatever it takes to win another Stanley Cup in return to Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp was finishing up his opening statement when he broached the obvious subject: what to expect in his second tour of duty with the Blackhawks?

“I want to make it clear that I’m coming back home to contribute to the Blackhawks in whatever role it may be,” he said.

Sharp departed the Blackhawks two summers ago a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a top-six forward who played a big role in the team’s success. Now he’s back with Chicago, although with time passing comes changes. Sharp is now 35 and coming off one of his toughest seasons, especially with injuries. He’s recovering, very well and on schedule, from a hip surgery in March. He probably won’t be the top-six guy this time around. But to get another chance at a Cup with a group he knows very well, Sharp is willing to play whatever role necessary.

Sharp talked to the media on Saturday afternoon, not long after signing his one-year deal worth $1 million with the Blackhawks. It’s the latest in the Blackhawks’ attempts to rekindle magic with former players. For the most part, this has not worked out well. But for general manager Stan Bowman, the familiarity of Sharp, coupled with the forward’s ability to mentor to young players and fill a role on a team needing depth, was a convincing combination.

“We expect him to bring a lot of speed to the table. He knows how to put the puck in the net. That’s something some players just have a knack of getting open and getting the shot off. As far as the intangibles go, stuff away from the ice, there’s no question there’s chemistry there,” Bowman said. “There are younger players here who weren’t here when Patrick was here before, but I think he’s going to help mentor those guys. Patrick has a lot of experience, been through a lot of situations. He can help sort of mentor those younger players and so from that perspective, there’s great comfort level among players and staff.”

[MORE: Blackhawks bolster depth with flurry of moves]

As for that speed and great skating, how much will be affected by Sharp’s hip surgery. Both Sharp and Bowman said he’s progressing just fine and Sharp will be ready for training camp — the surgery had a 4-5-month recovery window. Sharp said he’s, “pushing it pretty hard in the gym, and I’ve been on the ice in full equipment skating. I don’t anticipate any problems going forward.”

“I still have a ton of time to be ready for Day 1 and be ready for training camp,” Sharp continued. “I had got the surgery toward the end of [March] and that provided me with a ton of time… not to just back to the level I was at in March but it also allows me time to build my body back up to where I can play a season. I’ve played a lot of hockey, I know where I have to be physically and mentally to start the season. The time I’ve given myself is plenty.”

So where does Sharp end up in the lineup? As of now, Brandon Saad is penciled in as Jonathan Toews’ left wing. Nick Schmaltz, who played some with Patrick Kane last season, will likely get the first shot on Kane’s wing when the season begins. Sharp finished his 2014-15 postseason playing on the Blackhawks’ third line, and that’s probably where he could start this fall.

Sharp had several options this free agency. Like Brian Campbell last season, he took a lot less money to return to the Blackhawks. Much like his paycheck, his role will be different this time, too. But it’s a familiar place full of familiar faces, and whatever role Sharp takes on in order to win another Cup, he said he’s willing to play it.

“I expect to be 100 percent ready to go from Day 1, to contribute in any role Joel [Quenneville] puts me in and I’ll do the best I can,” Sharp said. “I look back to my time in Chicago, being a part of three different teams, all three times I played in a different spot. Things move around, there’ll be changes and combination, but I’m open and ready for anything.”

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

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USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”