Kyle Baun’s eyes lit up when he talked of playing in his first preseason game with the Blackhawks on Tuesday night.
“I’m super excited,” he said after Tuesday morning’s skate. “It’s a great opportunity, especially with the lineup we have. I’m just trying to make the best impression I can.”
He didn’t make a bad one.
Baun scored the game’s opening goal and was part of a solid fourth-line combination in the Blackhawks’ 5-4 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Baun is one of several young Blackhawks vying for a spot on the team this season.
Baun signed with the Blackhawks last March and made his NHL debut on April 7 against the Minnesota Wild. Baun looked pretty calm that night. As for his first day in the Blackhawks’ locker room, Baun was in awe.
“It was definitely surreal, pretty cool and intimidating for sure,” he recalled. “It didn’t sink in until my first skate: you’re looking at all the last names and thinking, ‘wow, every single one of these guys is like a name player.’ It was an unbelievable experience. I hope it will be again this year.”
Quenneville was impressed with Baun’s three games at the end of last season. After the Stanley Cup run, Quenneville mentioned Baun as a player who could have a great opportunity this season. Baun entered the summer with that in the back of his mind.
“You try not to do anything too, too different [training-wise]. But there’s more motivation this summer, knowing the opportunity ahead of me,” Baun said. “So to an extent, you try to stay more focused, maybe not going out quite as much with the friends and stuff, and just work harder.”
Coach Joel Quenneville reiterated that possibility for Baun recently.
“He certainly a guy we’ve been watching closely,” he said. “There are a number of guys in a similar situation, there’s opportunity there. He made a real good impression on us last year going down that stretch. This year, we’ll see.”
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Yeah, about that competition: it’s definitely there this season for Baun. The Blackhawks already had some sandpaper guys on their team last year when Baun debuted, especially Andrew Shaw and Andrew Desjardins. Both are back this season and the Blackhawks also acquired Ryan Garbutt from the Dallas Stars as part of the Patrick Sharp trade. The three were line mates on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.
“It definitely gets you up for every game,” he said. “Every time you’re on the ice it’s exciting. But I can only do my own thing and not try to worry about that too much.”
There are spots to be had this season with the Blackhawks but there will be several players vying for them. Baun has as good a chance as anyone. He just has to make the most of his training-camp audition. He didn’t have a bad night on Tuesday.
“It went all right. It’s good to get a goal. It’s nice to get that under the belt. Then I thought I played physical, kept it simple,” Baun said. “I thought our line was playing pretty well and buzzing around the net, had a few good chances. Overall, I thought it was a good game.”
— Marcus Kruger should arrive in Chicago on Wednesday. Quenneville said Kruger will skate with the Blackhawks on Friday.
— Artemi Panarin (upper body) will probably not play in a preseason game until next week, Quenneville said.
— The Blackhawks released forwards Hayden McCool, Radovan Bondra and Roy Radke from training camp on Tuesday. Their roster is now down to 59 players (33 forwards, 21 defensemen and five goaltenders).