Blackhawks

Gustav Forsling call-up comes at perfect time for Blackhawks

Gustav Forsling call-up comes at perfect time for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks recalled defenseman Gustav Forsling from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League and placed forward Marcus Kruger (left leg) on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 9, the team announced Tuesday.

Forsling, who underwent wrist surgery in the offseason, was sent to Rockford on Oct. 22 perhaps more-so as a conditioning stint and appeared in five games. He missed four contests with a groin injury, but is coming off a two-assist game against the Chicago Wolves over the weekend.

"It's been a long summer with the injury," Forsling said. "It's good to be finally back here."

The 22-year-old defenseman had three goals and 10 assists in 41 games with the Blackhawks last season before getting assigned to the IceHogs for the remainder of the campaign. He recorded five points (two goals, three assists) in 18 regular-season games and five points (one goal, four assists) in 13 postseason contests, where he really proved himself.

"Happy to have him here," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We think he can help us. He's a fantastic skater, moves the puck clean, with his gap he can really defend lines well, we think he can add something to our group.

"Really pleased with how we played in the playoffs for us in Rockford. He played a huge role, not so much power play, but 5-on-5 and killing penalties and that's probably how we see him here for now. But he can move the puck and he can shoot the puck and he's got a lot of tools. Watching his play down in Rockford since he's come back, he's picked up where he left off and he can play the left and the right side, so it's a positive for our team."

Forsling said Colliton was a "huge" reason why Rockford went on such a deep playoff run last season, but also credited his new coach for the role he played in his development.

"He helped me a lot [in getting] my game to be at the top and I felt like I did very good in the playoffs down there," Forsling said. "He just wanted me to be consistent and show up every night, play good defensively. And I felt like he brought that out of me."

The Blackhawks' roster currently sits at 23 players, meaning they will be carrying eight defensemen for now despite the team's reluctance to do so again this season after it backfired a year ago — Colliton said he's not against the idea, but isn't for it, either. Brandon Davidson (right leg injury) did not practice on Tuesday, which was believed to be a reason for bringing up Forsling, but Colliton dismissed the thought that Forsling is only here for insurance.

"No, we think he can play," Colliton said. "We feel that he's back up to speed and it's up to him to prove himself."

Forsling's call-up certainly comes at a desperate time for the Blackhawks, who have lost eight in a row (0-6-2) and could use all the help they can get on the back end. 

"More competition the better," Colliton said. "It's going to push everyone to be better. Guys got to earn what they get and that's good for our group, that's good for the minimum level of our team. They know they've got to perform every night. It's up to us to be clear with what we're asking from the guys, so when they go out or come out, they know why, they know what they have to do to go in, they know what they have to do to stay in, and I think the overall performance of the team will go up."

Artemi Panarin and desperate Rangers set to face Blackhawks

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USA Today

Artemi Panarin and desperate Rangers set to face Blackhawks

When you see a highlight of Artemi Panarin making a dazzling play — usually that results in the puck finding the back of the net — you can't help but think, 'He'd really look good in a Hawks sweater... again.'

Alex DeBrincat struggling to one-time the puck from the left circle the way he used to on the man advantage is one of the factors giving the Hawks the NHL's worst power play. Artemi Panarin was the guy who used to do that for the Blackhawks, and he rarely missed. 

Alas, the man of bread is locked up for six more years after this one with the Rangers at an AAV north of $11.6 million and his contract has a no movement clause. 

In June 2017, the Blackhawks traded the dynamic winger to the Columbus Blue Jackets, along with forward Tyler Motte and a draft pick, to re-acquire Brandon Saad and get goalie Anton Forsberg and a pick. 

Panarin, now 28, had 151 points (61 goals, 90 assists) with Chicago in two seasons after signing a free agent contract on May 1, 2015. He previously played in the Kontinental Hockey League. 

The 2016 Calder Trophy winner had 169 points (55 goals, 114 assists) in two seasons with the Blue Jackets before signing with the Rangers as a free agent. 

This year, his 78 points (29 goals, 49 assists) are good for fifth in the league. 

Last year, Panarin returned to the United Center ahead of becoming a free agent and had a friendly competition with Patrick Kane to see who would be last of the ice following warmups. Kane isn't sure there will be time for pregame shenanigans with his pal before Wednesday's game.

"I think we got that faceoff tonight (40th anniversary of Miracle on Ice ceremonial puck drop with Jack O'Callahan), so it'll be interesting to see what comes of that," Kane said. "I always try to be the last on my team, not really worry about the other team, but he's having a great season. 

"Obviously an amazing player, a player that you'd pay to watch play the game. Still try to stay pretty close with him and stay in contact and just kind of catch up here and there throughout the season."

Panarin has meant a lot to a Rangers team desperate to claw back into the playoff picture while sitting eight points out, just like the Hawks.

"Unbelievable," New York center Ryan Strome (brother of Chicago center Dylan Strome) said of Panarin. "The way he controls the puck, the way he controls the play, you guys were lucky enough to see it for a few years here. 

"I think he's better now than he was then. His game's growing, he competes on pucks really hard and he's been a silent leader for us. I think everyone sees how hard he plays and how hard he works and we follow. He's been our catalyst and he's done everything we could ask of him, so he's been great."

Strome thinks the Bread Man should be in the MVP conversation as well.

"Yeah, especially if we get in the playoffs here," he said. "It would be hard not to consider him. His numbers are ridiculous. I've seen some stats about Jaromir Jagr and some ex-Rangers that have put up similar numbers to him. To be in that category is pretty special. 

"You guys have seen it firsthand, the way he acts and how much fun he has doing it I think just rubs off on everyone, too. In such a serious season and such a serious business we're in, I think to have a guy like him, he's doing his leg kick and he's lightening the mood a little bit, that stuff is contagious. That's part of his personality and part of what makes him a great player."

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Zack Smith feels fortunate after coming 'millimeter' away from season-ending injury

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USA Today

Zack Smith feels fortunate after coming 'millimeter' away from season-ending injury

Zack Smith knew immediately something was wrong. Not because of the pain but because of what happened.

In the final minute of the second period against Vancouver on Feb. 12, Smith had his left hand stepped on by a Canucks player. The television broadcast didn't pick it up, but Smith quickly threw his glove off and went straight to the locker room fearing the worst.

"It wasn't a very painful thing when it happened, it just happened and I was like, 'That's not good,'" Smith said. "You feel a skate blade step on your hand, you know it's not going to look good. The trainers said they couldn't believe there wasn't blood on the glove because I just threw it off right away and went to the bench. I was pretty worried there for a bit, and then right away doctors were able to tell me, 'It's going to be fine. Just a few stitches.' Just a short time of panic."

Smith did not return to the game, but that was the least of his worries. And the Blackhawks, who weren't exactly sure what happened.

"Yeah, scary thing," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I didn’t see it so when he came off I thought he broke his wrist or something, we didn’t really know in the moment. But when you hear what happened and see the cut, it’s not a good situation. So, obviously happy that it’s not too serious."

It could've been much worse for Smith, who practiced with the team at morning skate on Wednesday and is inching closer to a return. He was close to a potential long-term injury but is now back on the ice less than a week after the injury occurred.

"It was probably a millimeter away from being the end of my season," Smith said. "I got very lucky. A couple of stitches and a few days off is all it's taken."

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