Blackhawks

All-Star game validates Sharp's career evolution

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All-Star game validates Sharp's career evolution

Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011
Posted 9:06 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

RALEIGH, N.C. John Stevens remembers always getting a look from Patrick Sharp when the Philadelphia Phantoms were prepping for a game-deciding shootout.

He was always looking over his shoulder at you, hoping to be picked, said the former Phantoms coach, now an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings. He always had that look of confidence to be the guy to help the team win.

Sharp never needed to hone his focus. Through the years he did hone his game, and as he takes part in this weekends All-Star Game festivities hes evolved into a complete player who has earned superstar status.

With names like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa getting much of the national attention out of Chicago, Sharps sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But those who were with him in Philadelphia when his pro career began beg to differ.

As someone whos coached against him, he doesn't get lost in the shuffle. He has become a 200-foot player, said former Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, who was at the Philadelphia Flyers helm when Sharp was drafted and played for them in the early 2000s.

When he came to us from college, he had the reputation and the game and you could see that he was going to have the ability to score, Hitchcock said. The 200-foot game was something he had to learn and work on but he really did a great job.

Make no mistake: Sharps scoring touch is still tremendous. He already has more goals in 2010-11 (26) than he had all of last season (25) and hes been strong for the Blackhawks on the other side, too, especially on the penalty kill.

For Sharp, those early Philadephia days were a time of learning and growing, especially under Hitchcock.

He knows the real way and right way to play, Sharp said. Im thankful that I played under him for so many years. Id like to think I became a better player because of Hitch.

Sharp was selected in the third round (95th overall) by the Flyers in 2001. He split time between the Flyers and Phantoms during the 2003-04 season. But when the NHL locked out in 2004-05, Sharp played the entire season with the Phantoms.

Hitchcock said the biggest adjustment Sharp had to make wasnt so much his game, but the number he had to play once he hit the pros.

He was playing 36 games a year (at college) and the Phantoms played (nearly) 100 games when they won the Calder Cup in (2004-05). It was an adjustment, Hitchcock said. Just the level of play was one thing, but the amount of games and how many games there were every week was a real grind.

He apparently adjusted quick. Sharp was a big part of the Phantoms run to the Calder Trophy that season, scoring 23 goals in the regular season and eight more in the playoffs. Stevens said Sharp played in every situation for the Phantoms and started to develop his all-around game.

Stevens said he was also selfless. When Jeff Carter came into the Flyers organization and joined the Phantoms, Sharp was the teams No. 1 center. Sharp was asked to move to right wing to give Carter the top center job, and Stevens said Sharp was more than happy to do it.

Mike Haviland, now the Blackhawks assistant coach, first noticed Sharps development while coaching at Atlantic City and then Trenton in the East Coast Hockey League.

He understood what it took to be successful at this level, and its all three zones. He takes a lot of pride in not only scoring goals but also not getting scored upon, Haviland said. Hes made great strides in the defensive zone, especially moving from wing to the middle. Its not easy.

And if Sharp had a bad game during those formative pro years, he was harder on himself than anyone.

He was his own worst critic, Stevens said. It may have been misconstrued at first that he didnt care because he was quiet. He wanted to learn, wanted to work at his game. He did all of the things you want a young player to do. He took the right attitude and now were seeing the fruits of his labor.

But in December 2005 the Flyers traded Sharp to Chicago for forward Matt Ellison, who played little in Philadelphia before ending up overseas. A trade the Blackhawks obviously got the better of, Sharp and his new team seemed to mirror each other: both were about to break through and prosper.

Getting the chance to go to Chicago and play in every situation while the team was growing and building themselves really helped him, Hitchcock said. Without pressure he was able to go there and play and develop. The last couple of years when the team was ready to win, he was ready to play the complete game. He has just developed such a complete game now that he's dangerous offensively, trustworthy defensively.

And thats where Sharp is today. The All-Star nod was validation for how hard hes worked on his game. Its also something that puts him on the league-wide radar. Those who were with him in Philly knew he would be.

I know there are the Hossas and the Toews and Kanes, Hitchcock said. But Sharp has everyone's attention.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

One month after "mutually" agreeing to part ways with assistant coach Don Granato, the Blackhawks have hired 38-year-old Tomas Mitell as his replacement on Jeremy Colliton's staff. 

Mitell spent the past two seasons as head coach of AIK Hockey (Allsvenskan) in Sweden, where he guided the team to an overall record of 64-27-13. He led AIK to a league-best 35-8-9 record during the 2018-19 campaign, with their 35 wins and 109 points each setting franchise records.

Perhaps more notably: Mitell served as an assistant coach under Colliton with Mora IK (Allsvenskan) during the 2016-17 season, so there's obvious familiarity between the two. 

Mitell rounds out Colliton's staff that also includes assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank and veteran goaltending coach Jimmy Waite. It's a young group behind the Chicago bench, with Colliton (34), Brookbank (38) and Mitell (38) each having little NHL coaching experience but offer a new-school way of thinking.

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