Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Are these the gifts we've been asking for?

326102.jpg

Hawk Talk: Are these the gifts we've been asking for?

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
1:35 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Since our planet's much-more-brilliant minds are still working on perfecting the Time Machine, there's unfortunately no way we can fast-forward a few months to find out what impact the Circus Trip will have had on the Blackhawks' season. There are definite signs to point to if they maintain a higher level of consistency and take off from here.

It's only two games, and just the second time in six-and-a-half weeks they've put back-to-back wins together. They also beat a couple of slumping teams missing a key player or two. Yet, there was reason to like the fact there was no letdown at the end of a long trip, finishing on consecutive nights. In Anaheim, when they controlled most of the first period, they didn't let a late power play goal throw them off their game. As much as Nick Boynton may have disappointed a couple of nights earlier with turnovers in San Jose, you had to love him once again coming to a teammate's defense. Same goes for Jonathan Toews Saturday night, captain-versus-captain, going after Dustin Brown as the Kings continued targeting linemate Viktor Stalberg all game. Maybe there is something about that road trip bonding.

In the final five minutes of the trip, they were forced to dig real deep, and while they couldn't kill a 5-on-3, they burned off the second penalty in what was an encouraging night for a PK which has still allowed seven goals the last five games and has sunk towards the bottom of the NHL. The power play will also need a little sprucing up after connecting just twice on the entire trip. The last couple of wins overcame those two trends with a willingness to forecheck, crash the net and the defense doing a better job of jumping on rebounds around their house.

In my last entry, I wrote about the best players being the best players. While there are still some individual head-scratchers along the way, those victories over the Ducks and Kings had a scoresheet filled with returning Cup-winners. Patrick Sharp? Yeah, I guess it was good Stan Bowman deemed him an untouchable. I wonder if he comes home still the hotel room wrestling champ, too.

Then there's Corey Crawford. Joel Quenneville leans toward going with a good thing when it's working, so it's easy to imagine him sticking with the Big 5-0, who's gone a big 4-0 in his last four starts. The only three shots that've gotten past him in his last three starts have been on the opponent's power play.

Marty Turco shouldn't be labeled as a scapegoat by any means. He'll still get a ton of time. It just so happens that after opening the trip with his first Hawks shutout, the games in Calgary and San Jose weren't his sharpest nights, compounded by the fact everyone around him played poorly, as well. As we discussed with Ed Olczyk during the second intermission Saturday night, teams go through stretches where they just play better in front of one goalie over another. Niemi over Huet here last year. Niittymaki over Niemi now in San Jose. Earlier in the season, Johnson over Fleury in Pittsburgh. Sure, the goalie has something to do with inspiring that confidence. Some of Turco's first-month efforts saved his new team a handful of points. At this point, Crawford seems to bump up the feel-good factor. Turco's time will come around again. He's a great teammate but he's also more accomplished, experienced and psychologically stronger than Huet a year ago if this turns into a competition.

It would be a great time for this potential springboard to be real. They Hawks are also as healthy as they've been all season. Their place in the standings continues to get a big assist by the games they have in hand. Until the others catch up, the next item to check on the "to-do" list is making their home ice nasty again for visitors. Ten of their next 13 games are back in their barn. Check out the teams they face. All from the Western Conference. All jockeying for what counts come April. It starts Tuesday against a St. Louis team feeling the losses of Oshie, Perron and Polak. Better for the Hawks to keep adding to their point total and deny these other teams when they have the head-to-head opportunity before the schedule evens out and they're potentially passed.

Each season is a process that must unfold at its own pace. Some teams riding high the first month are learning it's a difficult pace to keep up. But still, when's that Time Machine supposed to be ready again?

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

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.

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

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

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Wahlstrom already has an NHL-caliber shot with a quick release and the ability to create space for himself and linemates. He's most known for his goal-scoring ability and elite shot, and can hit a one-timer as good or better than many professional players."

NHL player comparable: Phil Kessel

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would probably prefer to take a defenseman at No. 8, but because four of them might go inside the Top 7, the best available player on the board is likely to be a forward. And there's a decent chance that could be Wahlstrom.

Wahlstrom would immediately become Chicago's top prospect, and a player that has the potential to slide into the top six when he reaches the NHL — whenever that may be.

He's committed to college for the 2018-19 season, so it's doubtful he would join the team until at least 2019-20, but Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said in our draft preview edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast that it wouldn't deter them from picking him. 

And it shouldn't, because you don't want to waste a player of his caliber's entry-level years developing in the minors if he's not ready yet.

"I think the way we would evaluate it is, we project them, we try to get a timeline on when we think they might be NHL ready," Kelley said. "But we're also looking for where they are in their development curve and want their ceiling is. I think in some players, you have to be a little bit more patient for them to reach their ceiling. That doesn't necessarily mean that players can't exceed their development curve, I think we saw that with Alex DeBrincat last year."