Blackhawks

After bursting onto the scene in Rockford, Collin Delia generating buzz at Blackhawks training camp

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USA TODAY

After bursting onto the scene in Rockford, Collin Delia generating buzz at Blackhawks training camp

Collin Delia has emerged as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. A year ago, nobody knew much about him at training camp. Now there's buzz around the 24-year-old and his role with the team going forward.

He appeared in only 28 games last year for the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League, but took control of his opportunity by going 17-7-2 with a 2.72 goals against average and .900 save percentage. It wasn't until the Calder Cup playoffs when he really started to raise eyebrows, helping the IceHogs reach the Conference Final with a 2.34 GAA and .924 save percentage.

With Corey Crawford out at the time and the revolving door at the backup position, it was interesting to think about Delia's chances at having a real shot in that role for the 2018-19 season.

"Why not?," Blackhawks senior director of minor league affiliations Mark Bernard said in May whether Delia could challenge for the backup spot this season. "You know, what not? That's what training camp is for. He's proven this year that he's a quality netminder. He's someone in our organization [who's] a high-level prospect for us and the more he plays at this level, the more experience he gains ... he's playing in high-level pressure games here and he's proven himself. 

"So going into training camp next year, he's got just as much of a chance as anybody. It's going to be interesting when camp opens. I think those things will be determined through the exhibition games and Stan [Bowman] and Joel [Quenneville] will have some tough decisions."

Training camp has been so far, so good for Delia. 

He stopped 17 of 19 shots in his preseason debut against the Ottawa Senators, and drew rave reviews from coach Joel Quenneville from it and his camp in general.

"He's done a real good job," Quenneville said. "Last year was a good year for him as far as getting stabilized and being a pro and getting a lot of net, and did a really good job of getting [Rockford] in the playoffs. He's coming off a special game the other night, and he can do some pretty neat things."

That's always a big confidence builder for a young kid, especially when it comes from a Hall of Fame coach.

"It's always nice to have praise from the coach," Delia told NBC Sports Chicago. "Honestly it's just one of those things in the preseason game, you've got to see where your game's at by playing in a couple games; happy to come in there and make stops, just continue to play at this level it's truly amazing."

A big part of why Delia has had the success he's had early on at this level is his mental strength. You have to have that as a goaltender. You especially have to have it when you go undrafted, like Delia did, to still have that belief in yourself that you can make it to the NHL one day.

"Obviously you have to be physically able to put your body through those rigors, but a lot of it is will power and mental fortitude," Delia said. "I think it's a balance between the mental capacity and physical ability and kind of the spiritual side. It's threefold. But if you don't have the mental fortitude to withstand ... if you go down a couple goals early, you've still got to keep playing like it's 0-0. You're trying to keep the ship going straight so to speak, but a big thing of being mentally sound is doing the same things when something positive happens and something negative happens. 

"For instance: you get scored on, you take a sip of water. We score, take a sip of water. Do your thing. Be balanced out, don't put so much emotion into the highs and lows. Keep it steady. So that's one way that I kind of approach it."

The Blackhawks brought in veteran Cam Ward this offseason to back up Crawford, who could practice with the team as early as this weekend but is unlikely to be ready by Opening Night, according to Quenneville. That means the backup to Ward for the time being is up for competition.

Forsberg likely still has the inside track because he hasn't done anything that would force the Blackhawks into giving up on his abilities and putting him on waivers, but Delia is preparing like he could have a shot as the No. 3 goalie on the organizational depth chart.

"I think that's always the goal, to play at the highest level, so you prepare for that always," Delia said. "It's something that I visualize in my off time. If that's the case, that's great. And if not, I'll still keep developing, still keep progressing because at the end of the day that's really what it's all about, continuing to get better. When it's your time it'll be your time. Just be patient and trust that the organization has your best interest at hand and I think when you have that trust, it's reciprocated with myself and the organization."

While Forsberg has also had a strong camp, the Blackhawks aren't ready to make a decision on that quite yet. There's still one more week of training camp with three preseason games remaining. And with teams across the league trimming their roster in half as the regular season approaches, these are the games where players will be evaluated the hardest.

So if Delia gets another chance to build his case, he could make it difficult on the coaching staff when they're ironing out the final roster.

"We'll see how it all plays out," Quenneville said. "Those things are going to get answered for us either by performance or time. 

"We're in a winning business. Sometimes it's who's more deserving. We know with goalies, time is probably beneficial, but at the same time, if a young kid's ready to go, we don't want to get in their way."

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

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AP

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

The Blackhawks are always active in the overseas market. Over the last few years, Dominik Kahun, David Kampf, Michal Kempny, Jacob Nilsson, Artemi Panarin and Jan Rutta are among the notable Chicago signings that have come from there. 

And they continue to be an attractive destination.

The Blackhawks have reportedly expressed interest in 24-year-old Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev and 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin, and the feeling is mutual.

Of the 30 NHL teams that have checked in on Mikheyev, TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that the Blackhawks are among the finalists — although it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs could be the frontrunners. Mikheyev, who's 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, racked up 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 62 games this season for Avangard Omsk of the KHL, and tallied 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 postseason contests. His decision is expected to come this weekend.

Wedin has also reportedly narrowed his list, which includes the Blackhawks. He had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League, where he compiled 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 32 regular-season games and nine points (two goals, seven assists) in seven playoff contests with Timra IK.

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger is expected to make his decision either before or after the 2019 IIHF World Championship, depending on whether or not he plays for Sweden.

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Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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