Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville got his first good training-camp look at Gustav Forsling on Friday night, when the team was in Pittsburgh. It was a good one.
“He immediately impressed me [Friday], his poise his patience, his play recognition, he’s positionally aware, moves extremely well…. I was very happy with his game,” Quenneville said on Saturday. “The timing of him coming along in our organization, how fast he progresses will be determined with how he plays and how things work out. But certainly, I see a real nice defenseman and he could be one of those guys who could be really good.”
The Swedish defenseman, who played 22 minutes, 33 seconds and recorded an assist in the Blackhawks’ 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, is making a big impression right now. Quenneville praised him, saying he had a special game on Saturday. So did general manager Stan Bowman and assistant coach Kevin Dineen. The immediate problem is this: with the defensive depth restored on the Blackhawks, can he make this roster right now?
“Well, I got here two years ago and I don’t think anyone expected [Trevor van Riemsdyk] to step into our lineup, either,” assistant coach Kevin Dineen said following Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. “What I’ve seen it’s a performance-based organization. If he earns a role, we’ll find a spot for him.”
Forsling is well aware of the situation.
“I mean, we have a lot of good [defensemen] so it’s going to be tough,” Forsling said. “But I’m just trying to do my best and see how it goes.”
As written previously, the top six are fairly set: Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Kempny. If the Blackhawks choose to carry eight defensemen, and that’s always possible if the cap space allows it, Forsling could be part of the mix. Then again, if Forsling is only here for part-time work, would that be productive for his development?
“We're certainly going to see how he plays in these exhibition games. Whether he (would be) benefitted from going to Sweden? That's a great league, so if he does end up back there, he's going to continue to grow his game. But we haven't made that decision yet. We want to see how things go here,” Bowman said. “A lot can change in a couple weeks, in terms of health of players and how they play. We haven't determined that, but if he's not here I think Sweden's a great development league for him.”
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The immediate future may mean a return trip to Sweden for Forsling. But given the impression he’s made and his potential, a long-term future with the Blackhawks looks good.
“We like the depth of our blue line. We’re deeper than we’ve been in past years. The openings aren’t what they are up front. But over the course of a season, that position is definitely important and you always have to go deep at certain times,” Quenneville said. “How it plays out, initially, there’s time to be sorting that out. But we like the upside he brings and potentially, once he shows he’s a regular, he’s only going to get better off that.”
— Prior to the game the Blackhawks assigned forward Kyle Baun, and defensemen Dillon Fournier, Carl Dahlstrom, and Nolan Valleau to the Rockford IceHogs. They also released forward Alex DeBrincat and Graham Knott, who will head to their respective junior teams (DeBrincat to the Erie Otters, Knott to the Niagara IceDogs). The team’s active roster now at 25 forwards, 13 defensemen and five goaltenders.
— Quenneville, who’s back after serving as assistant coach for Team Canada, talked of the World Cup of Hockey being “a great experience.” He especially appreciated the end of Game 2 against Team Europe; Brad Marchand scored the game- and tournament-winning goal with 43 seconds remaining in regulation. “Certainly, the ending reminded me of Boston, Game 6 [in 2013],” he said. “Definitely a fun way to go out.”
— The Blackhawks will be taking a young lineup to Detroit for Sunday’s game. “Not a lot of experienced guys going,” Quenneville said.
— Quenneville said Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and Marian Hossa will join the Blackhawks at training camp either Tuesday or Wednesday.