Tough practice has Kruger nearing a return

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Tough practice has Kruger nearing a return

Marcus Kruger took a minute to catch his breath and get a much-needed drink before talking in the locker room.

The Blackhawks center had a hard practice on Monday, with skating and skills development coach Kevin Delaney pushing him hard. It wasnt an easy day for Kruger, whos improving off the concussion he sustained around Christmas. But the more Kruger can do on the ice the closer he gets to playing again, so its all good with him.

Its just doing some conditioning to keep in shape, said Kruger, who has not been cleared for contact yet. It was tough today, but fun. Well see but just day by day.

It was a good sign for Kruger, who has now skated for four consecutive days, including the past two with his teammates. The Blackhawks will be without Patrick Sharp for the next 3-4 weeks with a handwrist injury, so getting Kruger back soon would certainly help.

Yeah, hes doing well, said coach Joel Quenneville. I just spoke to him. Hes progressing every day. He probably has to do more testing (the next few days) but hopefully get him playing here real soon.

Time to talk

The Blackhawks had an optional skate on Monday, with just seven skaters and the two goaltenders participating. The team also had their midseason individual player meetings on Monday. The Blackhawks just passed the halfway mark of their season with Sunday nights game against Detroit, and it was a chance to do their quarterly reviews.

We reflect on how were playing, Quenneville said. Sometimes we get feedback from veteran guys. Basically youre delivering your message and sometimes concentrating on individual things.

Briefly

When the Blackhawks host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, it will be the second time this season theyve faced a squad fresh off a coaching change. Columbus coach Scott Arniel was fired on Monday; assistant coach Todd Richards was named interim coach.

The Blackhawks faced St. Louis on Nov. 8, the Blues first game with Ken Hitchcock as head coach. St. Louis won that game, 3-0.

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Blackhawks Convention Opening Ceremonies

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AP

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Blackhawks Convention Opening Ceremonies

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, we're live at the 2017 Blackhawks Convention. 

Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp join David Kaplan and Pat Boyle to talk about returning to Chicago. 

Later Boyle, CSN Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers, Chris Kuc and Sam Panayotovich discuss the huge roster changes this offseason. 

Listen to the STL Pod below.