When the Blackhawks dispersed for summer a little earlier than planned, we took a quick glimpse into the future.
At the time, Trevor van Riemsdyk, who finally had health on his side, was expected to be a big part of the team’s defense. Then the Blackhawks signed Michal Kempny in May. Then they signed Brian Campbell on July 1. Then Gustav Forsling wowed team brass in training camp.
So what does all this mean for van Riemsdyk? Well, he’s expected to still play a role with this group. Coach Joel Quenneville has been happy with the 25-year-old’s game. But the role for him and others, considering the wealth at defenseman now, may not be as big as last season.
Whatever the immediate future holds for van Riemsdyk, he’s ready to go this season. After injuries curtailed his final season at college and first season in the NHL, van Riemsdyk played in all 82 regular-season games for the Blackhawks in 2015-16.
“I feel good out there,” said van Riemsdyk, who will play in the Blackhawks’ preseason finale against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. “Obviously just having a little bit of a longer summer, it’s getting back into the rhythm of things. As far as the body goes and playing, it’s been going pretty well.”
While depth means van Riemsdyk has a better chance of staying on the right, his natural side, Quenneville still likes van Riemsdyk’s versatility.
“We always appreciate his game,” Quenneville said. “He’s had a good camp. We like his thinking; he’s positionally aware. He’s good in both situations, defends well, handy with the puck and jumps in and out of the play. Our defense, eight guys we have here now, they can all play against good players and meaningful minutes. Back end will be our biggest strength, at least as we foresee it.”
Yes, it will be, which means those young guys who had to do so much last season may not have so much heaped on their shoulders this time around. That also means there’s more competition for playing time, but van Riemsdyk doesn’t see that as a bad thing.
“Yeah, for sure, there are a lot of great players here,” he said “You have to do the things that’ll make you successful that’ll help this team out. Play your game, don’t try to do too much. Competition brings the best out of all of us.”
Will van Riemsdyk play as big a role this season as last? Adding to that already deep defensive group is Forsling, who has been the surprise out this camp much like van Riemsdyk was two seasons ago.
“Yeah he’s been awesome. Just so poised out there. He can really shoot the puck and makes great decisions,” van Riemsdyk said of Forsling. “He’s been fun to watch and it seems like every night he makes a few really special plays. He may not be flashy but he’s really smart with the puck. He does a lot of good things and he’s a really good player.”
The Blackhawks now have a glut of defensemen; they’ll carry eight if they can. And some, including van Riemsdyk, may be rotated more often this season. Van Riemsdyk learned a lot in his first full NHL season. He’s ready to see what he can do this season after one more dress rehearsal.
“This last game here is important, just get everything squared away and getting back into that rhythm,” he said. “You want to be as prepared as you can be for the regular season. This’ll be a fun one coming up this weekend and exciting to get the real games going.”