Blackhawks

Blackhawks tidbits: Anisimov on the move, DeBrincat in the 'lottery spot'

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks tidbits: Anisimov on the move, DeBrincat in the 'lottery spot'

There are very few things ever set in stone but entering this training camp, Artem Anisimov at second-line center was as solid a bet as you could make. But Nick Schmaltz’s strong camp has coach Joel Quenneville thinking, tinkering and considering the 21-year-old for that spot alongside Patrick Kane.

A bit of a surprise, for sure, but Quenneville likes the chemistry of Schmaltz and Kane, who have been skating together for part of the summer. As for Anisimov, if he’s the third-line center, he won’t sulk or change his game.

“I’m just going to go out and play and try to score goals and make plays,” he said following Sunday’s scrimmages.

Anisimov is back to 100 percent after admitting he wasn’t that when the Blackhawks entered the first-round series against the Nashville Predators last spring. The center had suffered a leg injury vs. Montreal in mid-March that sidelined him until Game 1 of the playoffs. He’s ready to go after the long offseason, although who his playing partners will be is now somewhat up in the air. On Sunday Anisimov centered Ryan Hartman and Patrick Sharp as Quenneville continues to look at options, not only for the top two lines, but to bolster bottom-six depth as well.

“I think every team needs good depth at center and have a strong three or four lines,” Anisimov said. “It’s helpful in a team game.”

DEBRINCAT’S CHANCE

Alex DeBrincat teamed with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz during Sunday’s scrimmages, as Quenneville gave the 19-year-old a chance in what he’s calling this season’s “lottery spot.” It was just a first glance at the trio but Quenneville liked what he saw.

“The upside of that could be really big,” said Quenneville. “He’s one of those guys who his instincts are high and he’s playing with a couple of guys who have the same type of instincts. The reading and anticipation off plays, communicating without having to communicate, they know where it’s going to go next and that’s something that will only get better as they get accustomed to playing together.”

Quenneville added that, “we’ll have a couple of days to look at him a little more.” The Blackhawks’ first preseason game is Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

ROZSIVAL’S STATUS

General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday that defenseman Michal Rozsival did not pass his training-camp physical. Quenneville specified on Sunday that Rozsival has an upper-body injury. Asked if Rozsival could miss the season, Quenneville said, “we’ll see.”

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.