How 'crazy' OHL season has Graham Knott ready for Blackhawks camp

How 'crazy' OHL season has Graham Knott ready for Blackhawks camp

Graham Knott started last season with the Niagara IceDogs, where the Blackhawks prospect was expected to be one of the veteran leaders on a young team. A month later that all changed; Knott was traded to the Windsor Spitfires, a strong team that was guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup because it was the tournament host.

A 44-day layoff and a great tournament later, Knott and the Spitfires were claiming the team’s third Memorial Cup since 2009.

“Yeah, it was crazy,” Knott said of unexpected events this season. “I was going to be relied on as a leader [with Niagara]. But I got traded and then was fortunate enough to go there, play on a good team. We had a chance to go in for the Memorial Cup and it was all uphill from there.”

The move provided Knott valuable experience as well as a championship. He had three goals and an assist in four Memorial Cup games, including the game-tying goal in the title game against the Erie Otters. Now Knott’s attention turns to prospect camp and then training camp, where he’ll see his chances of making the Blackhawks.

Knott will enter this Blackhawks prospect camp with a contract, the three-year, entry-level deal he signed last September. The 6-foot-4, 194-pound Knott would bring size and a habit of hanging around the net, something the Blackhawks will gladly take. Knott hasn’t had much of an offseason thus far but prepping for Blackhawks camps will start soon.

“I took it easy after we won [on May 28] so I can’t take any more days off. Get back into the gym, stay in shape,” he said. “I played not too long ago, so I’m in somewhat game shape, continue work in staying elite shape and up my strength. Coming to prospect camp, it’s fun. It’s going to be a good year. Hopefully I’ll show Chicago that I’m ready for the pros.”

As great as the Memorial Cup experience was, waiting to play in it was interesting. After being eliminated in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, the Spitfires went 44 days without a hockey game. That’s when Knott and teammates were introduced to then coach Rocky Thompson’s phase-focused plan.

“Phase 1 was [practicing] five days a week for about two weeks. We tapered off Phase 2 and 3 leading up to tournament, but Phase 1 was a battle: two workouts a day, skate, up at 7 a.m. and running hills,” Knott said. “We didn’t take any time off. We got back into it, really drove to be successful and we were.

“Rocky had a very good plan,” Knott said of Thompson, who was named the Chicago Wolves’ new coach on Wednesday. “Going so far early and tapering off was perfect. Everyone was in good shape, everyone was healthy. We took on game 1 and we were flying. We went up from there, kept getting better and better.”

Knott had plenty thrown at him this past season, from trades to long waits to championships. Now to see where he falls in the Blackhawks’ plans.

“You can’t sit on the sidelines and look at the lineup and see where you fall in and which place you take. I have to go in and work my hardest,” Knott said. “I know what kind of player I am and if I can play my game I’ll hopefully be ready to go.”

Patrick Kane believes there's 'chemistry to be built' with Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome

Patrick Kane believes there's 'chemistry to be built' with Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome

All eyes were on No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach during Sunday's game as he made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks, but the story leading up to puck drop was where he was going to slot into the lineup.

Would he be broken in as a winger or were the Blackhawks going to slide him into his natural position at center? And if so, where? The answer to the first question was the latter and the second drew excitement among the fanbase when the team ran through line rushes during warmups.

Dach lined up as the second-line center with Patrick Kane at right wing and Dylan Strome moved over to left wing. That's a No. 3 overall pick (Dach) alongside another No. 3 overall pick (Strome) and a No. 1 overall pick (Kane), who's a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Hart Trophy winner.

When the three of them were on the ice together at 5-on-5 against Washington, they had eight shot attempts for and nine against and four scoring chances for and five against in 12:27 of ice time, according to Natural Stat Trick. Not great, but not terrible.

On paper, the trio has some real potential and it's enough for Kane to feel like this could be a line that sticks going forward.

"I thought he played well," Kane said of Dach's debut. "Did some noticeable things where he's hanging onto the puck, big body, he's obviously still a young kid. Pretty raw, but for his first game against a really good team, one of the better teams in the league, I thought he was noticeable, had some good shifts. I think there's some chemistry to be built there. I think we can even be better. Better with him, myself and Strome, we can be better for him." 

Dach said after morning skate that he wasn't sure where he was going to fit into the lineup. But he found out shortly after and spoke after the game about what it was like playing with Kane and Strome.

"It was pretty cool," Dach said. "Obviously grew up watching Kaner play and how successful he's been in his career and Stromer is coming into his own way and how good of a player he is. They made it easy to play with those guys. It was fun. I enjoyed playing with them."

The Blackhawks return to action on Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights, one of the top teams in the Western Conference, and expect the Strome-Dach-Kane line to get another crack together as they look to strengthen their on-ice rapport.

"I look at his game, he's pretty responsible," coach Jeremy Colliton said of Dach. "He doesn't look like a centerman who is going to struggle in his own end. He looks like he knows what he's doing down there. It's not going to be perfect, but there's the opportunity for him to get a lot better really quickly. We'll see how it plays out."

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Four takeaways: Kirby Dach holds his own in NHL debut but Blackhawks fall to Capitals

Four takeaways: Kirby Dach holds his own in NHL debut but Blackhawks fall to Capitals

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks left wanting more

The Blackhawks were easily the better team at even strength against one of the deepest teams in the NHL. They led in total shot attempts (84-49), shots on goal (44-30), even-strength scoring chances (36-20) and even-strength high-danger chances (16-9), according to Natural Stat Trick, but couldn't pull out a win.

The Blackhawks put up 44 shots on goal against a Capitals team that allowed the second-fewest shots per game (27.8) going into the matchup. They deserved a better fate.

"I think we dictated most of the play tonight and we weren't rewarded for it, but that's the way hockey works sometimes," Drake Caggiula said. "You don't always get the bounces, you don't always get the results you're looking for, even if you play the prototypical game or the perfect game. We didn't get rewarded tonight but this is something we can build off of heading into the next one."

2. Kirby Dach's NHL debut

After being sidelined for the first week of training camp and working his way back from a concussion, the Blackhawks' No. 3 overall pick finally made his much-anticipated NHL debut. And he held his own.

Dach centered the second line with Dylan Strome playing left wing and Patrick Kane in his usual spot at right wing. He had one shot attempt, one takeaway and went 1-for-5 at the faceoff circle in 13:41 of ice time. His only noticeable blemish was not picking up Alex Ovechkin in time before he rifled a shot past Corey Crawford.

"Obviously you want to win in your first game in and help the team that way, but I felt good out there," Dach said. "But at the same time, there's things I can clean up in my game to kind of help the team moving forward."

3. Special teams is the difference

The reason the Blackhawks lost this game was their lack of success on special teams. The Capitals went 1-for-1 on the power play and scored a shorthanded goal while the Blackhawks went 0-for-5 on the power play, which included a four-minute double minor in the second period.

It was unfortunate because the Capitals entered Sunday's matchup with a +11 goal differential and +44 shot differential in the second period and a -5 goal differential and -13 shot differential in the first and third periods combined, but the Blackhawks couldn't capitalize in the middle frame even thought they outshot them 15-9. Caggiula's goal was negated just 1:28 after by Nic Down.

"You can look at in the second there, we had a lot of momentum, give up a shorthanded goal, so we gotta be better in that department," Kane said. "We also gotta be better on the power play. Comes down to things like that, but good team and I thought we had a pretty good effort overall tonight."

4. Third line stands out again

The third line of David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad continues to be the driving force on offense for the Blackhawks, especially when it comes to possession. They were on the ice for 22 shot attempts for and nine against, 14 scoring chances for and four against, six high-danger chances for and one against, and one goal for and zero against in 9:07 of 5-on-5 ice time. 

Kubalik led the charge with 14 shot attempts (10 on goal) and scored a greasy goal to pull the Blackhawks within one in the third period. Kane evened it up shortly after. 

"Turned the game for us," coach Jeremy Colliton said of Kubalik's goal. "I think we were playing well, but they just took it to another level. Not only did they score, but it was an explosive shift there. And it wasn't the only good shift they had, but it really gave us momentum. They've been good."

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