Blackhawks

Former Blackhawk Ben Smith still feeling effects from recent concussion

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Former Blackhawk Ben Smith still feeling effects from recent concussion

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Ben Smith didn’t watch much of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup final appearance – he was at the World Championships at the time.

But not long after the Blackhawks won their third Cup last season, a season Smith was a part of before he was traded to the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline, he got a text from Jonathan Toews.

“[Toews] texted me later and said, ‘Hey, you’re a big part of this, too,’” Smith recalled. “It was nice to get that from him.”

Smith would’ve loved to play his former teammates on Wednesday night. But the Sharks forward is recovering from a concussion, sustained when a shot from teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic hit him in the head on Oct. 17 against the New York Islanders. Smith played two games at the end of October but the symptoms soon reappeared, and he’s been sidelined ever since.

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The good news is Smith’s been skating more lately, so he could return soon. Still, Smith knows from previous experience that he has to practice patience with concussions. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

“That’s the hard part: every day you want to wake up and feel great. You want to play,” Smith said. “You’re a competitor; we all are. To take your time – this one’s taking longer than it has in the past, but I’m trying to take it as they tell me, take it day by day. When you consistently start feeling better is when you can start getting on the ice more, and I’ve been able to do that.”

Smith dealt with the same issues back in the fall of 2011, after he took a hit to the head from Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith. It took some time for Smith to recover from that one, too; once he did, he headed to the Rockford IceHogs, where he played most of that season. Smith said it’s the uncertainty of how he feels from day to day is when he has to practice patience the most.

“Every doctor you talk to says it’s so hard to predict what happens. You can feel great for a week, then symptoms come back harder,” Smith said. “You’ve seen guys where they come back months after the injury. They’re hard things to predict. It’s probably the most complicated injury there is in hockey. You’d love to go out there and play with a sprained ankle or a broken arm or whatever, but everyone says, you can’t battle through a concussion.”

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Much like in June, Toews was wishing his former teammate well again on Wednesday.

“He was just a great teammate, a great friend; just a really unselfish, positive guy. Obviously [you] love having guys like that in our locker room,” Toews said. “We felt destined to go where we ended up last year, and it was unfortunate we couldn’t have him along with us. But sometimes that happens. You wish him all the best and hopefully he’s recovering from his current injury.”

Smith didn’t get to face the Blackhawks on Wednesday. But he’s skating more often and feeling better. Hopefully, he’ll put his concussion issues in the past soon.

“There [are] enough studies out there now and you hear enough about it in the news. You want to be careful and you want to be able, later in life, to not look back and point back to the injuries that you sustained while you were playing as the reason you can’t go throw a ball or remember things or do your everyday activities,” Smith said. “Trying to be careful. Obviously I love hockey, I’m going to keep playing hockey and wait till this gets better. I’m going to put my heart and soul into what’s going on here.”

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.