Blackhawks

Blackhawks Camp Synopsis: Roster starting to take shape

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Camp Synopsis: Roster starting to take shape

One week down, roughly one week to go.

Some things have fallen into place during the Blackhawks’ first seven days of training camp but this week is when it really gets interesting. The roster will continue to take shape and the competition for the few vacancies will intensify. Here’s a look at what we’ve already seen in Week 1 and questions for Week 2.

Stock Rising

Jordan Oesterle. We could put a few of the young forwards here, but we’ve talked about them quite a bit and will continue to do so. So right now let’s look at Oesterle, who coach Joel Quenneville liked “a lot” in Thursday’s game against the Red Wings. A puck moving defenseman, Oesterle said he played on the right side with the Edmonton Oilers but could also play on the left. If Oesterle has another good week of camp, that and his versatility might get him a chance on a Blackhawks defense still looking for the right pieces.  

Stock Falling

Tomas Jurco. Please realize where we’re coming from with this assessment: where does he fit in this lineup? He didn’t get a lot of opportunities last season but when he did play there wasn’t anything that made him stand out. Stan Bowman likes him and much like with David Rundblad, the Blackhawks want to give the Jurco a chance to justify the draft pick they gave up for him (a third-round selection from the 2017 draft). Several young guys are pushing hard for roster spots. Can Jurco be an every-day player or do the Blackhawks have a decision to make in favor of some of those up-and-coming players? Just very interested to see how this turns out.

Biggest surprise

Nick Schmaltz’s second-line center opportunity. Maybe we should’ve been more open minded to this happening but considering how little that line changed last year you figured Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane would stay together even after the Artemi Panarin trade. But given the strides Schmaltz has made in his own game and the skating work he and Kane did together this offseason, Quenneville wants to see what Schmaltz can do in the middle. There’s always tinkering with this team; we really should have seen the possibility coming but we didn’t.

Some Remaining Questions

- If there’s one forward spot vacant out of training camp, which young player wins it? John Hayden. Here’s why: even if Alex DeBrincat doesn’t make this team out of camp, the Blackhawks’ top six is looking pretty good. Meanwhile the bottom six, especially that fourth line, has some holes. Getting a young player with some size, speed, skill and sandpaper that Quenneville likes and trusts (and he likes and trusts Hayden) would be a great addition to the bottom six.

- Will there be any surprises on defense? Maybe. Part of it depends on what the Blackhawks do about the Michal Rozsival situation. Rozsival didn’t pass his physical (upper body injury) and is not participating in camp. You hate to see someone go out like this, but it may be the end for the veteran. If so, the seventh defensive spot opens up and so do the Blackhawks options. After Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Connor Murphy you have Cody Franson (if the Blackhawks sign him), Oesterle and Jan Rutta who have made good preseason impacts. Michal Kempny’s in the mix, too. Gustav Forsling is on the bubble. He had a great camp last fall but didn’t improve off it; that has to change this season.

- Will the top line combination work? There’s no doubt the Blackhawks missed Brandon Saad. He may not have been facing the sturdiest Red Wings team on Thursday but Saad’s powerful game was nevertheless impressive and a reminder of how much the Blackhawks missed that element the last two seasons. But the Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik combo hasn’t gotten a great look yet — Toews missed Thursday’s game due to illness. Saturday should be the first chance to see if these three can really click.

How Blackhawks can beat Oilers with 'wealth of success' in qualifying round

How Blackhawks can beat Oilers with 'wealth of success' in qualifying round

Training camp is set to begin on Monday, and before long, the Blackhawks will be heading to Edmonton to take on the Oilers in a best-of-five play-in series beginning Aug. 1 under the NHL's 24-team playoff format.

NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes helps us break down the matchup.

"One thing that's important for the Hawks, they've got superheroes in their group," Weekes told NBC Sports Chicago over the phone. "Obviously in (Leon) Draisaitl and Connor (McDavid) those guys are superhero players. ... Let's be clear, those guys have two Hart trophy candidates on their team, the Oilers. And they've really improved as a team. They're a more complete team, their special teams are both in the Top 5: power play, penalty kill. (Head coach) Dave Tippett's done a masterful job. 

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"I had a chance to speak to them when they were here at Madison Square Garden playing the Rangers, they've got a lot more experience: James Neal coming there, Mike Smith coming there, guys that know Dave Tippett (and) played for him in Dallas. You know the Great 99, Wayne Gretzky, I spoke with him numerous times about their team. He's excited about their team, literally gitty based on how much of a team they are. Let's say that, I'm just going to position their team and give them their due. 

(And now the fun part.)

"With that being said, the Chicago Blackhawks have future Hall of Famers in their group and I always said, 'It's hard for me to justify betting against superheroes.' And that being (Patrick) Kane, who's going to go down as the best American-born player ever, passes 1,000 points, three-time Cup champ. I can go on and on about Kaner and then same thing for Jonathan Toews. Duncs (Duncan Keith) can still play at a high level and still play in the first pair and (Brent) Seabrook is close to returning I understand from three surgeries, which is wild, which is a huge testament to him, who he is as a person and his determination and his professionalism. 

Related: Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook practices for first time since surgeries

"When you have those guys that have seen that and have experienced that and have been through that and all the international success that they have, that's a wealth of success that those guys have to their credit, same thing for Corey Crawford. So knowing how to navigate a Stanley Cup playoff and not being fazed by the big stage... As I asked Jonathan Toews, I had him on my Instagram probably a month ago, I asked Tazer, 'What is it about winning?' Honestly, he wins at walking down the street, he's won at every level, every single level. 

"So there's something to be said for that swag, that belief, that experience and he's unlocked the code. They have guys in their group that have unlocked the code numerous times. So that to me, is helpful. And especially when you're playing remotely and you don't have the benefit of the great crowd at the United Center, you don't have that 22,000 and the thunderous roars in your building, which is a huge advantage. 

Related: How will long layoff affect goalies in NHL's 24-team postseason?

"But, to be fair, Edmonton won't have their crowd either. They'll have their rink, they'll be in their home city, but they won't have their crowd physically in their building. Although, it's a newer building so I think that kind of neutralizes things a bit in terms of a home ice advantage so to speak."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Potential problems in the NHL bubble?

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Potential problems in the NHL bubble?

Gordon Wittenmyer, Scott King and Nick Shepkowski join Kap on a Thursday edition of STL.

0:00 - MLB teams continue their preparations for the 2020 season. So, is there hope that the league has finally gotten past its testing issues?

4:00 - A hospital in Edmonton had to close its doors because of a COVID-19 outbreak. That city is expected to host one of the NHL’s bubbles. Should the league be concerned?

8:30 - Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel joins Kap. Will we have major college football in the fall? And will the NFL be able to play through the pandemic?

19:30 - The panel weighs in on the possibility of major college football this fall.

Listen here or below.

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