Blackhawks

Competition for roster spots will be intense

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Competition for roster spots will be intense

Thursday's discouraging news on the labor front, in which NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced there would be a lockout on September 15 if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached, has a trickle-down effect.
It likely means the Blackhawks and the 29 other teams will be even quieter on player movement until a new CBA is reached. General Managers still wanting to make roster moves can have discussions and perhaps set the table for doing things in what could well be a flurry of activity once the labor pains go away.As I wrote earlier in the week, I believe Stan Bowman wouldn't mind making some moves, but he doesn't necessarily feel he has to if he's not getting what he'd like in return. Sure, every fan has their trade proposals, realistic or not, from either team's standpoint. But it's also not Fantasy Hockey, it's the real thing. The Hawks' Vice President and General Manager has made one move this offseason, signing former Anaheim defenseman Sheldon Brookbank to add some size and toughness on the back, and hopefully an effective penalty-killing option.While there have been some names rumored to be on the trading block, let's take a closer look at what happens if the Hawks end up standing pat, whenever the 2012-13 training camp and regular season gets underway. It would result in some spirited competition for roster spots and ice time, primarily because some young players Hawks fans have been intrigued (or excited) by are on the verge of playing at the highest level.Toews, Sharp, Hossa, and Kane are four of the top six forwards. Part of the decision in your mock lineup has to do with whether Kane winds up at center. Since the post-playoff news conference, it sounds as if that's become less likely. And barring a deal to bring in a number-two pivot, Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland would be your second-and-third-line centers, or vice-versa.If Viktor Stalberg's on the roster, he'd seem best suited on the top two lines rather than the bottom two as the team expects him to become a more complete player on the defensive end. Do you then reunite the effective second line when Toews was sidelined late last season, which was Stalberg-Kruger-Sharp? Provided you do that, then who plays with Toews and Kane? An agitatorgrinder like Carcillo or Shaw? Does Brandon Saad continue to impress in camp and bring additional size to that line? You can only pick one, so the other two have to be dropped down somewhere.Moving to the so-called "third line" - with Bolland or Kruger in the middle. Is the best bet (or do you expect) to reunite the best line in the playoffs the last two seasons - Bolland, Bickell and Frolik? The wingers didn't come close to carrying that momentum into last regular season and combined for their share of healthy scratches. Of the trio mentioned earlier for top-line options, just one makes it. The other two must drop down somewhere. Here? Fourth line? Is Jimmy Hayes ready to grab full-time duty at this level? That comes with the knowledge that, similar to Saad, they need to play regularly to grow into whatever potential you project for them.There's one more line to fill out. Figure Jamal Mayers as one piece. Brandon Bollig became a likable addition last season, but if everyone's healthy at the start, is there a spot for him? Did you like the upsides of Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin a year ago? Did the fact each struggled with injuries last season ruin their realistic chances to contribute this year? Or can they provide things this Hawks team could use, with the opportunity to grow with regular playing time? The Stanley Cup isn't won (but could certainly be lost) in the first couple of months. And I haven't even brought up the name of the player generally considered the best, start-to-finish, at Rockford last season, Brandon Pirri.So that's 18 forwards for 12 spots. As the roster stands, figure 10 are pretty much "locks" for the regular lineup (Sharp, Carcillo, Kruger, Toews, Mayers, Stalberg, Bolland, Shaw, Hossa, Kane). That leaves two spots to fight over. See? A trade package could loosen things up a bit. Or you have a lot of guys needing to earn it under what should be a head coach carrying a much more critical eye into this season.Bowman has eight defensemen with NHL experience. We know Keith, Seabrook, Leddy and Oduya will play. What'll be more curious is whether skaters Leddy and Oduya remain paired like they were in the playoffs, or if it's better to have a more physical presence beside them, and how Hjalmarsson fits into the mix. Brookbank is here, Montador remains, and how high is Dylan Olsen's upside? All of them will have to be better with what they're here to do, by definition of their position. Corey Crawford must do a better job of bailing them out the times they do get too loose.There's no question improvement from these younger players, whose time is almost here, can make this team better. There are size and "sandpaper" elements on this massive list that could conceivably repair the power play. I've also mentioned in the past how I'd love to see Olsen work on his booming shot so that it could potentially be a factor on the power play. Maybe the team has him doing that. Can enough of these ingredients fix the special teams next season?Unless Stan Bowman gets what he wants in return (and by the numbers, you can see there are options to package on the market with the right trade partner), it's just about time to see how "NHL-legit" some of these kids can be. All of you have in your own minds what the upside is on all these players, young and experienced.
So break out your pencil. Make sure it has an eraser. And draw up who stays...and who goes...if Stan stands pat.

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Brady Tkachuk

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 196 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"I know Tkachuk isn't a center, but Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) is another player who comes to mind with his combination of size, strength, skill and nastiness. Tkachuk has impressive hand skills and his upside has only begun because I think there's lots of maturity and growth to come. I've seen his speed and skating improve each of the past three years and I think he'll still get stronger and his balance will get better. His man strength will come and it'll be like, 'Oh boy, look out.'"

NHL player comparable: Matthew Tkachuk/Wayne Simmonds

Fit for Blackhawks:

If you're looking for a player that checks all the boxes in this year's draft, it's Tkachuk. And man could the Blackhawks use a player like him.

He's got offensive skill, willingly goes to the greasy areas, can provide net-front presence while playing a top-six role, and perhaps the most important part for the Blackhawks: he's very close to NHL ready. The Blackhawks will be patient with whoever they draft, but there's also some urgency to turn things around in 2018-19.

If they can draft a player like Tkachuk who can potentially jump into the lineup as early as this upcoming season, that would be ideal. Because he's the type of player that can make an impact, not just get by.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.