Takeaways and observations: Blackhawks rout Wild to finish 7th place in Traverse City

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Takeaways and observations: Blackhawks rout Wild to finish 7th place in Traverse City

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Blackhawks routed the Minnesota Wild 6-1 to secure seventh place at the 2019 Traverse City Prospect Tournament on Tuesday.

The big story was Blackhawks prospects Adam Boqvist, Kirby Dach, Philipp Kurashev and Mikael Hakkarainen leaving the game with injuries, but the good news is all four players are expected to be fine and should be ready when training camp opens on Friday.

Here are three takeaways and some observations from the win:

1. Blackhawks finish on positive note

The Blackhawks went into Tuesday's game knowing full well that they were playing in the seventh-place game and not much was at stake. Then you couple that with the fact that four prospects went down with injuries, including Boqvist and Dach, before the second period even ended and it would've been easy to pack it in.

Instead, it served as an opportunity for the other prospects to get more ice time and show what they're made of. The Blackhawks rolled with nine forwards and five defensemen the rest of the way and held the fort down to close out the tournament on a positive note.

"The announcer announces that it's the seventh-place championship team game but it was good to see those guys, how they reacted," Rockford IceHogs coach Derek King said. "They stayed with it. It was nice to see them get rewarded. ... It felt like a minor hockey game with the three lines and four D.

"Nah, it was good. It happens. Team gets down, gets a little physical, guys getting a little bumped up. Nothing major. It was a good opportunity for the other guys to get some extra ice time and I thought they handled it really well."

2. Spreading the wealth

While the Blackhawks didn't finish where they wanted to as a team, there were a lot of individual standouts throughout the week. Different players stood out in each game, but there was also some consistency in their performances.

Four players finished with multi-point efforts on Tuesday, including MacKenzie Entwistle (one goal, one assist), free-agent invite Sean Josling (two assists), Tim Soderlund (one goal, one assist) and Michal Teply (one goal, one assist). Riley McKay, Dylan McLaughlin and Dach also scored goals.

"I just said to the guys: We're really happy with the way they progressed throughout the week," Blackhawks VP of hockey operations/team affiliates Mark Bernard said. "It's tough, you don't have a lot of time to work on special teams and you're being asked to go out there and kill a penalty and be on a power play and you don't even know the name of your left winger. It's a lot to be asked of these guys, but I thought they got better as the week went along and we were really happy with the play of most of our players. They really stepped up.

"I think it's an exciting time to be a Blackhawks fan. We have a lot of great prospects in our system and it's going to be fun to watch them over the next few years develop."

3. Alexis Gravel turns in strong showing

The Blackhawks have to be encouraged by what they saw out of Gravel in each of the two games he started in. In the opener against Detroit, he gave up only one even-strength goal and was a big reason why the Blackhawks hung on to beat the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime.

On Tuesday, Gravel stopped 27 of 28 shots for a save percentage of .964. He did this while the team played half the game with only nine forwards and five defensemen. He was great this week.

"He stood on his head," King said. "He was great. It could have been a lot different but he was really good today for us. ... He's just got some confidence. He's just poised in the net. There's no panic. There were a couple shots definitely screened where you think it's going in and he was just square to the puck and it hits him and rebound comes and he swipes it away. It was good for him, it was good confidence for him too coming into camp."

Other observations:

— King is really going to like having Reese Johnson for a full season in Rockford. He's a terrific faceoff guy, kills penalties, is one of the first ones to stand up for his teammates and can contribute on offense. He's been on the first power play unit and penalty kill unit, and was the team's primary faceoff specialist. He was also tabbed as an alternate captain for the tournament.

— Nicolas Beaudin hasn't been talked about much during this tournament and it's because he hasn't been noticeable. But in a good way. He's a pretty sound defender and doesn't make many mistakes. He's a solid puck-moving defenseman, but isn't flashy. It will be interesting to see how his game translates to the pro level.

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Alex DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team


Alex DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Less than two and a half seasons was all we needed to see from Alex DeBrincat, a highly-skilled and crafty winger for the Blackhawks, who's usually looking to shoot instead of pass. 

DeBrincat was one of the biggest steals from the NHL Draft in recent years. The Hawks taking him in the second round, No. 39 overall, of the 2016 draft changed the way teams selected players.

There's been less hesitation for GMs to pick forwards around DeBrincat's height (5-foot-7) if they're point-producing machines with strong vision and skating. Right out of the gate, the 21-year-old recorded 28 goals for his rookie campaign during the 2017-18 season and followed it up with 41 last year.

"The Cat" has seen a dip in production tallying 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 32 games so far this season, but expect that to pick up.

DeBrincat has utilized his size in being able to sneak by defensemen and find open areas in the offensive zone like the left circle, where he's rifled in a lot of his goals with the Hawks. The Farmington Hills, Michigan native has 151 points (77 goals, 74 assists) in 196 games with Chicago.

He hasn't hoisted the cup or even played one playoff game yet with the Blackhawks, but if/when he does reach the postseason in his career, he'll be a reason why his team got there and will surely be a difference maker.

Alex's chemistry (and interesting friendship) with old Erie Otter (OHL) pal Dylan Strome, as well as with Patrick Kane, amplify the forward's strengths and make him even more fun to watch. 

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Struggling Blackhawks still trying to find a path forward


Struggling Blackhawks still trying to find a path forward

ST. LOUIS — One year ago today, the Blackhawks were enjoying an off-day after snapping their second eight-game losing streak of the season with a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Adjustments were still being made under new head coach Jeremy Colliton, but there was at least some optimism that light would be at the end of the tunnel once they all got on the same page.

The Blackhawks have an off-day on Friday, but they’re in a much different place this time around. And not in a good way.

After losing for the ninth time in 12 games (3-7-2) and third straight (0-2-1), the Blackhawks are making standings watching irrelevant in Chicago in a year where it shouldn’t be. Their playoff chances are slipping away quicker than an odd-man rush and nobody wants to start looking ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft class because they shouldn’t be in this position again.

The inconsistency issues are real, the injuries continue to mount, the losses are getting uglier and the schedule is only getting tougher. The Blackhawks aren’t just losing hockey games. They’re not even giving themselves a chance. 

In their last six losses, the Blackhawks have been outscored 29-11 for a minus-18 goal differential. They’ve given up at least five goals in four of them and have one regulation win since Nov. 17.

And it’s hard to see how it can get better.

The easiest in-season change to make when a team with playoff expectations is underperforming is to change the voice and message the players are listening to. But the Blackhawks played that card last season.

In 2015-16, the Blackhawks deservedly earned a pass for running out of gas in the first round after coming off a season in which they captured a third Stanley Cup in six years.

In 2016-17, the Blackhawks called being swept in the first round by Nashville as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference a "wake-up call" and promised changes.

In 2017-18, the Blackhawks pointed to Corey Crawford’s season-ending injury in December as a reason for their second-half spiral.

In 2018-19, the Blackhawks preached patience after making a coaching change for the first time in 10 years.

In 2019-20, there is no excuse. The Blackhawks had another long offseason to get it right and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were coming off career statistical seasons at age 30. The roster is better but the product on the ice hasn’t changed.

The tide eventually might turn for the Blackhawks, but right now it's difficult to see a path for how it will.

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