Niklas Hjalmarsson

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

1020_hawks_yotes.jpg

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.

Blackhawks mailbag: Missing elements to meals on the road

marianhossa.jpg
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.

Patrick Kane believes Blackhawks might be better than last year ... on paper

keith_saad_kane.jpg
AP

Patrick Kane believes Blackhawks might be better than last year ... on paper

After initially struggling to cope with the reality of losing linemate and close friend Artemi Panarin, along with teammate Niklas Hjalmarsson to trades his offseason, Patrick Kane is slowly starting to like Chicago's reformed roster the more he looks at it.

The Blackhawks reacquired top-line winger Brandon Saad, brought back three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Sharp, got 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy in return to help ease the loss of Hjalmarsson on the back end, and made several depth signings up front such as Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels via free agency.

But will it translate into on-ice success? 

"It's tough to say," Kane said at the Chicago Hockey Charity Classic at Fox Valley Ice Arena on Saturday. "I think time will tell, obviously. But I'd like to think on paper we're a better team."

GM Stan Bowman wasn't kidding when he said changes would be coming to the organization after a first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators, and his moves helped extend the Blackhawks' championship window a few more years despite making the short term a more challenging task.

At the same time, the Blackhawks did finish the 2016-17 campaign as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with 109 points before getting bounced in the opening round for the second straight year. There's a fine line when you're evaluating the season as a whole.

"If you look at our season last year, I mean, we had a pretty good season," Kane said. "We just kind of collapsed there at the end. Disappointing finish, but when that happens, you know there's going to be changes. You can't really ask for much more from a management standpoint, as far as asking for them to make moves to help us win. They did that."

Now the question is whether they can put it all together.

Getting the new (and old) faces acclimated to the Blackhawks' style of hockey as quickly as possible and ironing out the wrinkles before April will be key to avoiding another quick postseason exit.

"Obviously, there's some faces that have been here for a long time, and some faces you didn't want to see go that are maybe kind of the cause of some of those moves, but it's disappointing," Kane said. "At the same time, we've got some guys coming back in, like Sharpie and Saad, [and] they're pretty high on this Murphy kid, as well.

"We have guys that are going to come in. It looks great on paper, but we need to go on the ice and do it and make sure that we're playing the game of hockey we know how to play."