Blackhawks

John Hayden doing his part to earn Blackhawks roster spot

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USA TODAY

John Hayden doing his part to earn Blackhawks roster spot

John Hayden knew the situation entering this training camp: he was one of several young players looking for an opportunity with a Blackhawks team that, after some offseason signings, didn’t have a lot of spots available.

“I mean, since I got here I knew it’d be competitive. I’ve just tried to control what I can and that’s my play,” Hayden said on Friday. “I just have to work hard and feel more comfortable and understand the game a little better each day.”

Hayden has worked hard, having one of the standout camps that coach Joel Quenneville has mentioned on a regular basis. In a few days the Blackhawks will make their final cuts and it’s still a question whether or not Hayden will be among them. But considering what he’s done to this point, the Blackhawks seriously need to consider starting the season with him in Chicago.

“He looks like he’s working his tail off every single day. Every single shift is important to him,” Quenneville said. “He’s got the attitude you’re hoping for a guy who’s looking to make a roster spot or taking a roster spot and showing he’ll do whatever it takes. He continues to do it.”

Hayden was part of the Blackhawks’ fourth line on Friday, and if that holds tomorrow he’ll get one last preseason game for an audition. Obviously the Blackhawks aren’t totally new to him. Hayden got several games in last spring after finishing up his senior season at Yale. But it was all new to him there were some up and down moments and he was balancing a little schoolwork along with his pro hockey debut. Hayden recognized what he needed to improve and did so this summer, working with Ben Prentiss, who has trained pro hockey players for nearly two decades.

“What’s great about that gym is they’re always giving us new things to work on, new philosophies. There are always new developments as far as nutrition. Same goes for strength and conditioning. I was fortunate to work at that gym,” Hayden said. “It’s really about keeping up to the pace of this game. It’s so fast at this level.”

Alex DeBrincat looks like he’s carved out a spot on this team; he’s transitioned very well to the pro game and right now could be getting an opportunity. Hayden should get a chance as well. The Blackhawks could benefit from his size, physical play and scoring touch in the bottom six of the lineup. Hayden knew it was going to be tough to make this roster, but as of now it looks like he’s done everything to make it.

“You just control what you can and that’s my play, I put the work in for the offseason and now I have to play my game,” Hayden said. “At the end of the day there’s opportunity here. That’s the motivation.”

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.