Blackhawks

Blackhawks' Jan Rutta embracing Chicago both on and off the ice

Blackhawks' Jan Rutta embracing Chicago both on and off the ice

Jan Rutta spent no time in America prior to Blackhawks training camp but he loves what he’s seen in Chicago thus far, from a walk along Michigan Avenue to seeing his favorite band, the Offspring, at a recent concert to taking in the Bears season opener last Sunday.

And he’s a big American football fan now — “Oh yeah,” he said. “Big time.”

Be it the city or training camp, they’ve both had the same impact on the Czech defenseman.

“The city’s quite big, that’s a difference,” said Rutta, who hails from Pisek, a small town about 90 minutes from Prague. “Here [at camp], it’s also bigger, everything is bigger and faster. But everyone’s been kind to me, so that helps a lot.”

Rutta’s transition to Chicago has been a relatively smooth one. It helps that he has a few fellow Czechs here at camp, including Michal Kempny and David Kampf. Kempny, who paired with Rutta at Sunday’s scrimmage and was a national teammate of his in the past, has been especially helpful. Language isn’t a problem, either, as Rutta already has a strong command of English. He credits that in part to former Chomutov Pirati teammate and close friend Brett Skinner, a Canadian defenseman who also spent some time with the Rockford IceHogs in 2013-14.

The on-ice adjustment hasn’t been so bad, either. As with anyone coming over from Europe, playing on the smaller ice surface is always a question. But Rutta said that’s not the big concern.

“I’d say it’s more about the players because they’re faster. You just have to make plays faster,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said Rutta’s had a very steady presence in his first few days here.

“Sometimes you talk about defenseman a guy quietly goes about his business and you say he didn’t jump out at you. But I find those defensemen who are very predictable, safe and reliable, they’re getting the job done,” Quenneville said. “I like his size, the way he thinks the game, the way he moves. Getting acclimated to the smaller ice is a work in progress but he’ll only get better as we go along. It’s been a good camp for him.”

Where Rutta fits in on the Blackhawks roster — or if, right now — remains to be seen.

He’s enjoying his time in America, off and on the ice. Obviously he’d like to be part of the Blackhawks starting roster but whether he’s here or in Rockford, he’s ready to adjust his game on this side of the pond.

“I came here to give it a shot, to try my best and I’m not going to quit after a camp either way it goes,” Rutta said. “Hopefully I’ll be with the Blackhawks. I’ll just do my best.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.