In a matter of days, the Blackhawks trimmed their roster nearly in half as they look to finalize their Opening Day roster. But the hard part is just beginning.
The ones who have made it this far means they've given the coaching staff and management group something to think about. And that's exactly how the Blackhawks want it. They want these decisions to be difficult.
"It’s great to be down to one group, but it’s such a big group," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We’re in that middle ground where it is nice to just focus on the guys that are immediately in the mix for our team but it’s a lot of guys to manage for one practice. ... Eventually that won’t be the case anymore, but it is nice to be able to spend a little more time with only the guys who are potentially going to play for us."
Teams have until Oct. 1 to become cap compliant with its official 23-man roster, but the Blackhawks are allowed to take 25 overseas for their season opener in Prague. The Blackhawks depart for Berlin on Thursday and they must make a few more cuts before then, currently sitting at 30 players after assigning forward Jacob Nilsson and defenseman Philip Holm to the AHL's Rockford IceHogs on Monday.
So let's break down the final position battles left of 2019 training camp:
— Corey Crawford
— Collin Delia
— Robin Lehner
There isn't much debate here. Crawford and Lehner will be the two goaltenders on Day 1, but Delia will travel to Europe as insurance and serves as a dependable No. 3 option throughout the season if needed.
— Adam Boqvist
— Carl Dahlstrom
— Calvin de Haan
— Dennis Gilbert
— Erik Gustafsson
— Duncan Keith
— Slater Koekkoek
— Olli Maatta
— Connor Murphy
— Brent Seabrook
The Blackhawks essentially have five defensemen locked in: Gustafsson, Keith, Maatta, Murphy and Seabrook. If he's healthy for opening day, de Haan will round out the group. The seventh defenseman spot is the one that's to be determined.
Boqvist and Gilbert will probably start the season in Rockford but Colliton said Monday that they're both still in the mix and, at the very least, are getting some valuable experience. They're still viewed as long-shots, but it's a good sign that they're still around.
That leaves Dahlstrom and Koekkoek as the two guys competing for the final spot and, although unlikely, the possibility of carrying eight defensemen hasn't been ruled out. Dahlstrom and Koekkoek would have to go through waivers if they were to be assigned to Rockford, so that plays into the equation.
— Drake Caggiula
— Ryan Carpenter
— Kirby Dach
— Alex DeBrincat
— David Kampf
— Patrick Kane
— Dominik Kubalik
— Alex Nylander
— Brendan Perlini
— John Quenneville
— Brandon Saad
— Aleksi Saarela
— Andrew Shaw
— Zack Smith
— Dylan Strome
— Jonathan Toews
— Anton Wedin
This is where the roster battles get interesting. The forward group is starting to become clearer, but the bubble spots are still up for grabs.
Here are the six forwards who appear to be battling for the final few spots: Dach, Nylander, Perlini, Quenneville, Saarela and Wedin. And each situation is different.
Dach remains out with a concussion, but he skated on his own again on Monday and the Blackhawks aren't going to make a decision on his status until they see him practicing with the team and in game action.
Nylander has been a standout at training camp, but he was quiet in Saturday's preseason game against Boston and the Blackhawks are looking for consistency out of him.
Perlini was a healthy scratch on Saturday and there's a chance he could be on Wednesday also. The Blackhawks know what they have in him so he could be an option for the 13th or 14th forward spot, somebody who can rotate in and out of the lineup and give the team bursts.
Quenneville has been out for almost a week with a hip injury, so he's losing some valuable evaluation time. But the Blackhawks don't want to make a final decision on him until they have to.
Saarela is the prospect who didn't get a shot in Carolina but could in Chicago. It's still more than likely he starts the season in Rockford, but the fact he hasn't been among the first two rounds of cuts is a positive sign about what his chances could be of a call-up mid-season.
And then there's Wedin, who was given a shot in the third-line center role on Saturday and he held his own. They like the versatility he brings.
All that being said, there might be only one everyday forward spot available and the other one or two as the extras, depending on how many players the Blackhawks want to carry once they return from Prague. Wednesday's preseason contest against the Washington Capitals in Chicago will be the final chance for some players in this group to make their cases before the Blackhawks head to Europe and reduce their roster one last time.