Blackhawks mailbag: linemates, prospects and potential

Blackhawks mailbag: linemates, prospects and potential

Ah, summer is nearing its end. That can only mean one thing: hockey is about to begin soon.

Sure, it’ll be starting a little earlier this season with the World Cup of Hockey (preliminary games begin Sept. 17 in Toronto). But we’re going to leapfrog that event for the time being and talk Blackhawks.

What lies ahead for the Blackhawks this season? The team that had plenty of depth two seasons ago is now somewhat depleted, especially at forward. Of course, that’s where most of the questions lie entering this campaign. So let’s shake off the summer rust and open our first mailbag of the 2016-17 season.

I won’t be surprised if Nick Schmaltz gets the first shot at that left wing spot. Schmaltz’s opportunity opened up when Teuvo Teravainen was traded (don’t forget he signed not long after that move). Schmaltz has mainly played center or right wing but hey, when you’re with the Blackhawks, you adjust quickly.

Hossa played most of the season with Toews but was on the Blackhawks’ shutdown line with Marcus Kruger late in the postseason. Coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw and said at the convention that, “won’t say for sure they’ll start together this year, but I’d like to see it. Maybe he carves out a different niche.” I still wouldn’t be surprised if Hossa starts the season on the top line. Putting Toews with two unproven NHL forwards right off the bat is unlikely. And while Richard Panik got a shot there and probably will again, I think Quenneville’s going to want to bulk up that top line, at least to start.

The Blackhawks have a little salary-cap space left, according to (about $2.4 million). I’ve been down this road too many times to completely deny the possibility of the Blackhawks doing something. That said, I’d be surprised if they do. General manager Stan Bowman has said several times that it’s time some prospects get an opportunity, so don’t be surprised if the Blackhawks stick with what they have right now.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

Yes, Mr. Versteeg is back on the NHL free agent list after his deal with Bern (Swiss League) didn’t work out — TSN’s Darren Dreger reported “insurance complications.” Versteeg will land somewhere, even if it’s just for a tryout. He’d certainly fit right in if he were to return to the Blackhawks, but I just don’t see it happening.

Scott Darling saved the day and helped save the series against the Nashville Predators in the 2015 postseason but he struggled last season. Hey, it happens. Let’s remember when Crawford had a tough sophomore season and half the fan base wanted him traded (OK some silly fools still do but whatever). Darling has the ability and he will keep learning. Eventually, yes, he could be No. 1 goalie material but he’s not there yet.

Now your second question: no, I never thought the Blackhawks would trade Crawford. When Crawford signed his six-year, $36-million deal in the 2013 offseason, he was coming off his first Stanley Cup victory and there were still a lot of questions about him. Now he’s got a second Cup and was damn good last season when the Blackhawks didn’t have their usual defensive depth. Here’s how his contract stacks up to other NHL goaltenders, according to Not so bad, really. But long story short he’s a great goaltender; and when a team gets one of those it shouldn’t let go of him.

I want to see what Michal Kempny has to offer. Yeah, I saw him at prospect camp (same with Schmaltz and Tyler Motte) but it’s one thing to see those guys with fellow prospects and another to see them with established NHL players. As Artemi Panarin had a Russian teammate or two to help him get used to his new surroundings, Kempny will have the same with fellow Czech Michal Rozsival. Clearly, the Blackhawks’ brass already thinks highly of Kempny. Asked potential defensive pairings at the convention, assistant coach Mike Kitchen threw out these possible combinations: Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell-Brent Seabrook and Kempny-Trevor van Riemsdyk. So I’m curious to see how quickly he adapts and fits in with the Blackhawks defense.

OK, those are two very unrelated questions, so let’s go with the hockey one first.

As of now I’m guessing Marcus Kruger takes over the third-line center spot and Dennis Rasmussen goes on the fourth line. As much as that Kruger contract still makes you wince, there’s no doubt the Blackhawks missed him on face-offs and especially the penalty kill when he was injured last season. Rasmussen benefitted from staying here a while last season, so he should just pick up where he left off. He also centered about 25 players last season (give or take) so the numerous line changes won’t throw him off, either.

Now onto the wine. I need to stress I’m not a connoisseur by any means. Basically if it’s cheap and good — I’ve never believed that higher price automatically equals better taste — I’ll give it a try. The Blackstone cab is pretty nice. I’m more of a Malbec woman myself, or maybe a blend. In the latter department, I still recommend 19 Crimes.

I’ll listen to jazz or rock. When I’m writing my post-game stories I tap into the John Coltrane station on Pandora. Can’t explain why, but it keeps me focused. My favorite album is “Everybody Got Their Something” by Nikka Costa (didn’t see that one coming, I bet). I’m not a big concert goer but I’ve been fortunate enough to see Bruce Springsteen twice and the Rolling Stones once.

Please don’t make me choose...

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in


Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild


Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild

As things seemingly spiraled out of control for the Blackhawks, who had lost four straight games - being outscored 14-6 in their past three - and going 3-8-2 in their past 13, they needed their top player to step up. Step up is exactly what Patrick Kane did Sunday night against a hot Minnesota Wild team. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ and 2013 Conn Smythe trophy winner scored two goals early in the first period before throwing the puck into the Wild's empy net for the 5-3 final score with a little over one minute remaining in regulation.

"It was nice to get one," Kane said of snagging his sixth career regular season hat trick. "You get two early on, you think, 'Maybe I have a chance at one.' Obviously it came a little bit later in the game, but huge fourth goal for us (from Brandon Saad) and I was able to finish it off with an empty net. Obviously that's a big win for us."

Kane made a wraparound attempt at 7:42 of the first period and the Minnesota Wild's Kaapo Kahkonen seemingly denied him with his left pad. However, the United Center crowd went crazy when they saw the replay of the attempt on the jumbotron. After a video review officials determined the puck completely crossed the goal line and the Hawks were up 1-0.

Kane recorded his second goal of the game, putting the Hawks up 2-0 at 11:33 of the first, scoring from the slot off a give-and-go with Jonathan Toews on Chicago's first power play of the game. 

"Showtime" scored into the Wild's empty net at 18:57 of the third period to complete the hat trick. It was his 18th goal of the season.

"He’s such a well-rounded player," Robin Lehner said of Kane. "I think as a goalie, going in practice every day against him, he has such patience with the puck and he’s so accurate with his shot. 

"He doesn’t shoot in the conventional — just go high or try to go bar and in. He goes between the arms, between the legs, over the pads, you know it’s very hard as a goalie to get a read. 

"He waits you out and then it’s in. He had a hell of a game today. He’s one of our leaders and he stepped up and helped turn this around for us."

Kane felt he's been in a rut and knows when he's able to produce, it can give the team a lift.

"I don't think I've been playing as well the past 10 games or so," he said. "Want to start playing better for the team. If I play better it's obviously going to bring more to the group and (there's) a better chance for us to win. That's something we're all trying to do in here is take pride and ownership."

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