Richard Panik

Blackhawks Camp Synopsis: Roster starting to take shape

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Camp Synopsis: Roster starting to take shape

One week down, roughly one week to go.

Some things have fallen into place during the Blackhawks’ first seven days of training camp but this week is when it really gets interesting. The roster will continue to take shape and the competition for the few vacancies will intensify. Here’s a look at what we’ve already seen in Week 1 and questions for Week 2.

Stock Rising

Jordan Oesterle. We could put a few of the young forwards here, but we’ve talked about them quite a bit and will continue to do so. So right now let’s look at Oesterle, who coach Joel Quenneville liked “a lot” in Thursday’s game against the Red Wings. A puck moving defenseman, Oesterle said he played on the right side with the Edmonton Oilers but could also play on the left. If Oesterle has another good week of camp, that and his versatility might get him a chance on a Blackhawks defense still looking for the right pieces.  

Stock Falling

Tomas Jurco. Please realize where we’re coming from with this assessment: where does he fit in this lineup? He didn’t get a lot of opportunities last season but when he did play there wasn’t anything that made him stand out. Stan Bowman likes him and much like with David Rundblad, the Blackhawks want to give the Jurco a chance to justify the draft pick they gave up for him (a third-round selection from the 2017 draft). Several young guys are pushing hard for roster spots. Can Jurco be an every-day player or do the Blackhawks have a decision to make in favor of some of those up-and-coming players? Just very interested to see how this turns out.

Biggest surprise

Nick Schmaltz’s second-line center opportunity. Maybe we should’ve been more open minded to this happening but considering how little that line changed last year you figured Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane would stay together even after the Artemi Panarin trade. But given the strides Schmaltz has made in his own game and the skating work he and Kane did together this offseason, Quenneville wants to see what Schmaltz can do in the middle. There’s always tinkering with this team; we really should have seen the possibility coming but we didn’t.

Some Remaining Questions

- If there’s one forward spot vacant out of training camp, which young player wins it? John Hayden. Here’s why: even if Alex DeBrincat doesn’t make this team out of camp, the Blackhawks’ top six is looking pretty good. Meanwhile the bottom six, especially that fourth line, has some holes. Getting a young player with some size, speed, skill and sandpaper that Quenneville likes and trusts (and he likes and trusts Hayden) would be a great addition to the bottom six.

- Will there be any surprises on defense? Maybe. Part of it depends on what the Blackhawks do about the Michal Rozsival situation. Rozsival didn’t pass his physical (upper body injury) and is not participating in camp. You hate to see someone go out like this, but it may be the end for the veteran. If so, the seventh defensive spot opens up and so do the Blackhawks options. After Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Connor Murphy you have Cody Franson (if the Blackhawks sign him), Oesterle and Jan Rutta who have made good preseason impacts. Michal Kempny’s in the mix, too. Gustav Forsling is on the bubble. He had a great camp last fall but didn’t improve off it; that has to change this season.

- Will the top line combination work? There’s no doubt the Blackhawks missed Brandon Saad. He may not have been facing the sturdiest Red Wings team on Thursday but Saad’s powerful game was nevertheless impressive and a reminder of how much the Blackhawks missed that element the last two seasons. But the Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik combo hasn’t gotten a great look yet — Toews missed Thursday’s game due to illness. Saturday should be the first chance to see if these three can really click.

Blackhawks Camp Notes: Top lines, tinkering and Day 1 tidbits

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AP

Blackhawks Camp Notes: Top lines, tinkering and Day 1 tidbits

Patrick Sharp was understandably apprehensive entering the last offseason, when a hip surgery and a 4-6-month recovery loomed. But from the skating he’s done since the summer and the fitness tests he and the rest of the Blackhawks took on Thursday, Sharp is back to where he wants to be.

When the Blackhawks reacquired Sharp on July 1 he said he’d be ready to go come training camp, and he was when the Blackhawks convened at the United Center on Friday. Sharp was naturally concerned of how he would rebound coming off the surgery. But the 35-year-old, who played with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Hartman during Friday’s scrimmages, feels great.

And much like during his first stint with the Blackhawks, he scored strong on the fitness tests.

“I was up there. I’ve got a couple of years on these guys, so I use that as an excuse. And a surgery to fall back on,” Sharp said. “But I was really pleased with my results, how I feel on the ice, ready to go.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said Sharp hasn’t missed a step.

“He looks quick, he looks sharp, he looks ready and he looks like he’s hungry and happy to be here,” he said. “We’re looking for a great contribution from him. His jump and his quickness right off the first step looked like it was caught your eye.

Good first look

You take Day 1 of training camp for what it is: a chance to look at some combinations, most of which probably won’t be finalized until later. But Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, the Blackhawks’ expected top liners, were together right away and had a pretty good first showing.

“We were racking up minuses today,” Toews said. “It was a tough first day. We had a lot of chances and for me as a center man a lot of time you’re coming into the O-zone with the defensemen, you literally just have to throw it off either wall and both those guys can skate. It’s fun to be out there with two players of Panner and Saader’s caliber. We had a lot of chances so tomorrow we’ll start putting them in and be a little bit better defensively too.”

Saad said it was just like old times. Sort of.

“I think being reunited with a guy you played with before helps a little bit but it's still going to take a little bit just to get used to everything,” he said. “But for the most part, I think it went pretty well today.

Briefly

Nick Schmaltz played alongside Patrick Kane on Friday. The two meshed well last season and, while it’s uncertain whether or not Schmaltz ends up on the second line or center another one, it’s always an option. “We’ve been skating a lot together, chemistry’s been pretty good,” Kane said of he and Schmaltz. “We were tired there in the first half but as the game went on started to make some plays, have some chemistry.”

Tommy Wingels, who suffered a hairline fracture in his foot in July, was fine in his first day at camp. “(The injury) forced me to change the way I train a little bit, just because I was limited in what I could do when I was in a walking boot, but in no way did it take away from my ability to prepare for the season,” he said. “I feel good out there. I feel healthy. I’ve been cleared to play. Mentally and physically, I feel like I can contribute from Day One and it was good start to camp today.”

Nathan Noel suffered an injury in the rookie tournament in Traverse City and will not be participating in the Blackhawks’ training camp, general manager Stan Bowman said on Friday. Bowman added that veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival did not pass his training-camp physical and is not yet cleared to practice. 

Blackhawks mailbag: Missing elements to meals on the road

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AP

Blackhawks mailbag: Missing elements to meals on the road

Two more days. Just two more days.

If you think the summer has felt long to you, think how it’s felt to the Blackhawks. It’s been a bittersweet one for a few reasons, from that abrupt postseason exit to Marian Hossa’s issues to watching more teammates get traded away to welcoming two former Blackhawks back to the lineup.

We’ve addressed a lot of topics this offseason and there will be much more to talk about once training camp begins on Friday morning. I would’ve thought there wouldn’t be many more questions left but you all still had some and I thank you again for your participation.

So before training camp finally beginneths, have a read at the final offseason Twitter mailbag.

Unless either/both just really knock it out of the park at training camp and give coach Joel Quenneville and company those tough decisions they say they love to make, I say both start the season in Rockford. Whether or not they get called up later always depends on how they’re doing/what the Blackhawks need at any particular time. All that said, there’s always some surprise out of training camp and I’m curious to see who it is this season.

First, my apologies. I misread this and gave my power-play prognostications (thank you, Tom Quinn, for pointing out my error). Anyway, to answer the question you actually asked. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill will really feel the offseason losses. Of the six players who logged the most shorthanded minutes last season, four of them are gone (Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Dennis Rasmussen and Marian Hossa). Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook remain a key part of it. Connor Murphy and Tommy Wingels have experience there. When I talked to Wingels at the convention he talked of playing on the PK, “to take some of the minutes off that core. Do you want your best players eating up hard minutes, penalty killing? Probably not. You want to use them in other situations.” He’s right, but the Blackhawks will likely still put the onus on the guys they know well. And before we all assume the penalty kill will struggle early due to changes, remember: it got off to a horrific start last season with its longtime personnel.

That’s certainly the hope. Nobody was more frustrated than Toews with how his game went last season, hence the changes. Be it that or the reunion with Saad, all of this looks great on paper. It would be outstanding for the team, and especially for Toews, if he and Saad picked up right where they left off in 2015. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: of all the former Blackhawks the team has brought back, the Saad reacquisition has the most likely chance for success. We’ll see if it actually comes to fruition.

Yeah, the Predators sweeping the Blackhawks out of the first round certainly ups the ante in their matchups from here on out. Last season was a reminder that what happens in the regular season meant a damn thing when the playoffs arrive. The Blackhawks should be angry and motivated, but not just when they face the Predators. While you’re never going to get consistency through 82 games the Blackhawks need to treat last year’s dismissal as a wake-up call.

Outside of a complete bust performance at camp or other strange occurrence, I’m going to assume Franson will be on the Blackhawks’ roster this season. They need another veteran back there, and once they place Hossa on LTIR after the season starts (he has to be on the roster Day 1 of the season) I’d expect signing Franson would be next. I don’t see Jurco going anywhere right now; Stan Bowman’s made it clear that he loves the guy. With Tomas Jurco and Jordin Tootoo, either would have to go through waivers.

If I had to put it on a scale of 1-10 I’d say about a seven (granted, I’m not the panicky type and it would take a hell of a lot for me to put anything at a 10). We all know what the Blackhawks lost and filling those voids, especially Niklas Hjalmarsson’s, won’t be easy. That’s why I think Franson, as I said above, is likely a part of this. We don’t know how Connor Murphy will transition into this defense yet. As I wrote as part of my five questions earlier this week, some of the Blackhawks’ young defensemen have opportunities here but they’ve got to be ready to fill some big voids. How much will Keith be taking on this year? Can Seabrook bounce back from last season? There are a lot of questions with this defense so yes, concern is a good word to use.

Ah, speaking of great defensive players… yeah we’ve talked about this a lot because it’s another problem. Hossa was just one guy but he was one hell of a guy when it came to all facets of the game. Everyone’s going to have to do a little bit more. Saad solves part of that problem but it can’t be just him. Plus, the Blackhawks are going to have to find a new king of the battle drills. I’ll keep an eye out for candidates myself; I don’t want that Spaceballs GIF to go to waste.

I unfortunately have no update on Hossa. Eddie, understandably, values his privacy during this time. But he said to let you all know he is undergoing treatment, doing alright and he appreciates all the kind words and support he’s received.

Yes, Steve Konroyd will be in for Olczyk for the time being. And Mr. Mayers will indeed be part of CSN’s pre- and postgame programs.

Yes, the Blackhawks’ new facility will be very much like Johnny’s IceHouse West in terms practices being open to the public.

Since I answered the first question above let’s just skip to the wine (usually a good idea regardless). At a recent dinner I got to try Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It’s a little pricier than I’d usually go ($25-30 range per bottle) but it was outstanding.

Montreal, with Vancouver being a very close second (let’s call them 1 and 1A). I probably lean toward Montreal because we don’t get there near enough and I love getting the chance to speak French, even if it’s a brief opportunity. Vancouver is just a fantastic blend of water and mountains.

This may be the easiest question I ever get, so thanks in advance for that. The paella at Barroco in Montreal, the black linguine frutti di mare at Mangiamo’s in Manhattan Beach and sushi at (pick a sushi place, any sushi place) in Vancouver.

I’m very curious to see this unfold. Whether it proves to be a success or not it’s going to take time, but it’s worth a shot. If there’s a market there, if there’s a real interest in growing the game, why not?

If you’re still looking for French food, I’d recommend Chez Joel near UIC. If the weather cooperates they have a great little patio off to the side of the restaurant. Otherwise, so many choices. For Italian, Nonnina or Mama’s Boy. I just tried Tanta not too long ago (Peruvian) and it was outstanding.

It will change at some point soon. I suggested CSITraMyers as my new handle but I was just a few letters off — and the wrong network.