Blackhawks

Anton Forsberg on uncertain future with Blackhawks as Corey Crawford nears return

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg on uncertain future with Blackhawks as Corey Crawford nears return

The Blackhawks are preparing for Corey Crawford to make his season debut this week after recovering from a concussion since Dec. 23, 2017, when he last made his appearance between the pipes.

That means a decision has to be made on Anton Forsberg, who's serving as the backup to Cam Ward but ranks third on the organizational depth chart in goal with a healthy Crawford. The challenging part of the situation is that Forsberg requires waivers if the Blackhawks want to try sending him down to the American Hockey League and keep him within the organization. But it's beyond his control.

"I have no idea and I don't want to think that way either,” Forsberg told NBC Sports Chicago. “I just want to be focused on getting better every day and try to work hard and put in the work, so hopefully when [my chance] comes, I've done everything I can.”

There are several layers to this, mostly questions: Can the Blackhawks find a trade partner for Forsberg? Would he clear waivers if he's put on there? And if he does, what happens to Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen, both of whom the Blackhawks are looking to take next steps in their development?

One thing is for certain: The Blackhawks do not plan on carrying three goaltenders. But maybe that’s an option for the short term until they see how Crawford handles the load since they have a six games in nine days stretch starting on Thursday.

“Organizationally, he’s one of our group of goaltenders,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Forsberg. “That’s where it’s at. We know the importance of depth in that area is always going to get challenged over the course of a season and we know the importance of the position. We’ll see how that plays out.”

In any profession, it's hard not to think about your future when there's uncertainty regarding your position. But Forsberg is trying to block all that out, no matter how difficult it may be.

"Sometimes it is, but at the same time it's the life of hockey,” he said. “Everybody has been, at some point, in their career probably in that situation. At the end of the day, it's always about yourself and how you can get better and all that. So that's what I'm trying to do.

"I try to come in here every day with a smile on my face. Hockey is the best thing in the world, so I just try to come in here and have fun and do my job. That's it."

If Crawford is ready to return on Thursday, that probably means Forsberg will be placed on waivers Wednesday. If he does get claimed, Forsberg must be on the NHL roster for at least 10 games and/or 30 days before being eligible to go through the waiver process again. So he cannot be stashed in the minors if claimed by another team.

That means his fate really depends on whether an NHL team is in need of an everyday backup goaltender.

"I really have no idea,” Forsberg said of whether or not he believes he would get through waivers. “It all depends on the situations and other teams, where other teams like me, I don't know. I don't want to focus on it. I just want to do my best right now to be prepared for whatever happens."

Blackhawks know development won’t be linear for Henri Jokiharju

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AP

Blackhawks know development won’t be linear for Henri Jokiharju

The Blackhawks couldn't have been more pleased with how Henri Jokiharju performed at the 2019 World Juniors. He was one of Finland's best and most reliable players, and played a crucial leadership role for his country that won gold.

But he hasn't been as effective on the blue line as he was before he left. 

In four games since returning to the Blackhawks, Jokiharju has one assist, two shots on goal, a minus-3 rating and is averaging only 14:47 of ice time. He averaged exactly 20:00 minutes of ice time per game in his first 32 contests and was among the top Chicago skaters in 5-on-5 ice time.

On Sunday against the Washington Capitals, he will be a healthy scratch.

"I think as a 19-year-old, we're pleased with his progression," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "It's not going to happen overnight where he becomes a dominant player at this level. There's going to be ups and downs, and that's part of the journey as a young player. You got to go through some adversity, and it's not going to be perfect and that's fine. It's up to us to give us to give him the feedback he needs to continue to improve and up to him to work as hard as he can."

To be fair, Jokiharju hasn't exactly been put in the best positions to succeed as of late. In one of the games, he was moved to the left side as an experiment for the Blackhawks, who organizationally have a surplus of right-handed shot defensemen. In another, the team rolled with seven defensemen, which makes it difficult for any defender to get in a groove.

The other part of the equation is that the Blackhawks are currently at seven defensemen, and have another on the way when Gustav Forsling returns from his upper-torso injury. Somebody needs to come out. Two guys, actually.

The Blackhawks aren’t looking at this stretch for Jokiharju as a setback. They know player developments aren’t linear, especially with young defensemen. So they’ll be patient with him and make sure he’s growing into the player they all want him to become at his own pace, even if it means cutting back his ice time.

"I'm not sure the way to go is to play them until they drown," Colliton said. "I think we try to give them what they can handle and sometimes maybe give them less than they can handle while giving them feedback, whether it's off-ice work or video work or extra practice time. That can be part of the picture. We could end up with a rotation on defense with some of the young guys we have. That wouldn't be a bad thing either. We have some young players. It's tough to play 82 games at this level against top competition night in and night out. It could be an option to lighten the load somewhat."

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After skating with Blackhawks, when could Corey Crawford return?

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USA TODAY

After skating with Blackhawks, when could Corey Crawford return?

The Blackhawks are in the middle of a five-game losing streak, but there was a positive development at practice on Saturday.

Corey Crawford was on the ice 30 minutes beforehand working with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite, along with Collin Delia and Cam Ward. He has been in concussion protocol since Dec. 16 after smacking the back of his head on the post and leaving in the second period against San Jose.

"Positive that he was out there, but I'm not sure it means a ton," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Hopefully he continues to feel better."

This wasn't the first time Crawford had been on the ice since the injury, according to a source, which is also great news because it indicates he's responding well to the workouts. But he didn't fully participate with the team in practice, so there are still hurdles that he needs to overcome before getting cleared to play.

The good news is, Crawford hasn't been sidelined very long. It's been only a month, so it shouldn't take him too long to get back into game shape compared to this summer when he was off the ice for more than six months and spent all of training camp getting his conditioning back. Crawford went straight into drills on Saturday, with several teammates getting in on the action to help simulate game-type scenarios.

The Blackhawks host the Washington Capitals on Sunday and then the New York Islanders on Tuesday before going on a nine-day break. The team isn't putting a timeline on his return, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Crawford between the pipes again shortly after they return.

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