The Blackhawks changes, be it those that have already happened or those that could still occur, have been watched by many.
Other NHL teams, including those they’ve traded with, have been watching. The media has been watching. And prospects in the system have certainly been watching.
Being a Blackhawks prospect hasn’t been easy these last few years: the Blackhawks have been deep and, outside of the summer of 2010, haven’t had massive roster changes. Well this summer has meant big changes again, be it trades (Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, and possibly others before summer’s end) or free agents going elsewhere (Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette and possibly Johnny Oduya).
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Bigger opportunities are going to be there come autumn, and several Blackhawks prospects have noticed.
“There’s definitely opportunity. I know that and you guys know that. So you definitely want to work hard,” forward Kyle Baun said. “I think there are spots available that are up for grabs, and with multiple players and there’s competition there. There’s motivation to know that they’re going to take a serious look at me and a few other guys.”
Two who are looking to take advantage of the opportunity, Baun and Mark McNeill, are at the Blackhawks’ prospect camp this week. But there are others. Phillip Danault and Ryan Hartman each played some last season and the two also spent the postseason with the Blackhawks as their Black Aces. Coach Joel Quenneville called Danault, who played twice in November, “tenacious.” Hartman, whose NHL debut in February began with a memorable hit on New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus, also made a good impression.
The competition will be fierce but prospects are ready for it, even if some didn’t want to talk too much about it.
“I'm just going to say it's an opportunity, you know?” McNeill said. “I'm really excited about it. It's gonna take a lot of hard work, but I've got to be ready to go when camp comes around.”
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Baun, who played three games with the Blackhawks, also garnered notice in a short amount of time; in the team’s exit interviews last month, Quenneville talked of Baun’s potential this season.
“He talked to me briefly,” Baun said. “[He] said he liked what I brought and expected me to have a big summer and to come ready for trainingcamp, were basically his words.”
Blackhawks prospects heading to training camp should always be ready for it. But they may be even that much more prepared for this one. There are big opportunities this season, big chances to make the team that haven’t been there in the recent past.
“At the end of the day it comes down to me trying to be the best player I can. That’s all I can really do,” Baun said. “At the end of the day, if I’m good enough I’m going to be there, if not I guess I won’t be there. All I can really do is work on my own game and not pay too, too much attention to [the changes], although it is interesting to follow.”