Vinnie Hinostroza

Blackhawks putting finishing touches on 23-man Opening Day roster

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks putting finishing touches on 23-man Opening Day roster

The Blackhawks are putting the finishing touches on their 23-man Opening Day roster, sending Vinnie Hinostroza to the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs and placing forwards Tomas Jurco and Jordin Tootoo, and goaltender J-F Berube on waivers Monday. Michal Rozsival was also placed on long-term injured reserve.

The roster now sits at 27 players (16 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders), but will be reduced to 24 once those other three clear waivers (or get claimed by another team).

That leaves us with one more cut.

Cody Franson, who's on a professional tryout agreement with the Blackhawks, has made it this far without getting the ax, and he's certainly performed well enough in training camp and preseason to earn an opportunituy to at least be in the mix on that blue line. All indications point to the 30-year-old defenseman signing a short-term deal with Chicago after roster space is cleared up, meaning he will likely be the final cut — for now — to get the team down to 23.

Marian Hossa needs to be on the roster Day 1, where he is then expected to be placed on LTIR.

Top prospect Alex DeBrincat has secured a spot, as has Lance Bouma, John Hayden, Tommy Wingels and defensemen Jordan Oesterle and Jan Rutta.

The challenging part may be becoming cap compliant by Wednesday, so it will be interesting to see how that affects the final roster decisions. But if there's anyone that has become an expert at navigating the salary cap though, it's Stan Bowman.

Young players' impressive camps could mean tough decisions for Blackhawks

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Young players' impressive camps could mean tough decisions for Blackhawks

Last week coach Joel Quenneville talked of the Blackhawks’ potential roster, one whose bottom six had several one-way contracts and not a lot of vacancies for young players who may break through. How would those deals, the ones that would force the Blackhawks to potentially put veterans on waivers, impact their decisions?   

“Hockey is always a significant part of it. The business part sometimes adds to it,” Quenneville said. “Sometimes – I don’t want to call it the deal breaker but could be one area that has a big influence on the decision. But we like to be making hockey decisions first.”

Considering how well some of the Blackhawks’ young on-the-bubble players are doing, the hockey and business decisions may be colliding very soon.

John Hayden has been outstanding since the start of camp and had another strong game (and his first preseason goal) in the Blackhawks’ 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday night. Alex DeBrincat has also been very good; Quenneville took a look at him on the third line with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Hartman on Sunday and could revisit that combo again soon. Vinnie Hinostroza is getting another long look.

The Blackhawks have two more preseason games to gauge what they need and want to do, and they’ll take advantage of as many games and practices to see what works best.

“We’ve got some ideas but I still think there are a couple of decisions that need to be made,” Quenneville said. “There’s gotta be personnel decisions, line combinations or defensive pairings that are still open, and there are spots that are open, for sure. I don’t want to put a quantity or number on it, but there is.”

Sure, there are definitely spots to fill on defense – possibly an extra one given Michal Rozsival hasn’t passed his training camp physical (upper body) and his status has not changed. But this is more about the forward lines, which have to weigh one-way contracts of depth veterans against young talent.

The Blackhawks always talk about having more grit in the lineup but the players who have had a mix of skill and grit (guys like Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Hartman, you get the point) have helped them garner the most success. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Blackhawks figure out a way to get these young guys in the lineup.

Quenneville’s always said he and the Blackhawks love tough decisions. Right now, they have some.

Blackhawks' young players brimming with confidence

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Blackhawks' young players brimming with confidence

Ryan Hartman is entering this training camp with a much higher level of confidence. Having a spot on this roster, something he wasn’t sure he’d have entering last fall, helps. But the confidence is a byproduct of his entire rookie season and every experience it brought with it.

“You get a full season under your belt and you’re able to feel out the game, adjust your speed and your quickness to the pace of the NHL game,” he said. “Last year was a big step for all of us, coming in here this year knowing what to expect, knowing how to play their game right and thinking of what to do on the ice.”

As several of the Blackhawks embark on their second season in the NHL there’s more certainty in their approach, whether they’re already part of this roster (Hartman and Nick Schmaltz) or trying to get one of the few coveted spots remaining (John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza).

When Schmaltz entered camp last fall he was fresh out of college and admittedly apprehensive – “I was nervous coming in, didn’t know if it was going to work,” he said at the team’s convention in July. There has been none of that this past week. A stronger, more confident Schmaltz has emerged, one that’s approached coach Joel Quenneville enough to give him a shot at the second-line center role.

“Yeah, it’s just familiarity with the coaching and the players,” he said. “You just know what to expect, you kind of come in with a good mindset and start off on the right track right away.”

Much like 2016, Hinostroza is on the bubble again this fall. But unlike last September he’s not sweating what may or may not happen out of camp.

“This year I feel like I’m more mentally stronger, more mature,” he said. “I don’t feel pressure at all. Maybe a year ago I did, thinking, ‘what are these guys going to do?’ But this year… I’m trying to focus on myself and I’m confident where I’m at. I made some improvements. I’m just going to believe in myself and the rest will play out.”

Hayden, on the same bubble as Hinostroza, got a taste of the NHL late last spring following his senior season at Yale. It was a small sample size but Hayden nevertheless got a good idea of what to work on entering the fall – improving his speed was a big focus – and what to expect overall.

“It’s so fast at this level. So yeah, it definitely helped playing games at the end of the year. If anything, told myself I belong at this level. There are familiar faces at camp, and it’s my job to prove I deserve to be on the team,” he said. “No [pressure]; 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.”

Hartman’s biggest adjustment came with the speed, too – “it’s a completely different level from Rockford to here, the pace of play and how quickly everything happens,” he said. That, and being confident enough to know when to hold the puck and when to give it up.

“Right away I was getting the puck and wanting to get it to someone else just so I didn’t make a mistake. Now I’m trying to make plays and trying to better the team,” Hartman said. “I definitely feel pretty good this year.”

For the Blackhawks who got their first taste here last season, the wide-eyed part of the NHL indoctrination is over. Now to keep building on the experience. And the confidence.