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.”

Adam Boqvist absorbing as much as he can from Blackhawks veterans in first training camp


Adam Boqvist absorbing as much as he can from Blackhawks veterans in first training camp

When development camp rolled around in mid-July, all eyes were on No. 8 overall pick Adam Boqvist, who had immediately become Chicago's top prospect.

That hasn't been the case in training camp.

We're one week in and the storylines have been dominated by Corey Crawford's status, Connor Murphy's back injury that could now sideline him up to 12 weeks and what it means for the defense, Henri Jokiharju's chances at making the big club and the new forward lines, most notably Brandon Saad being put with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz.

Why? Because all the attention in September is how the Blackhawks are going to bounce back after missing the postseason for the first time since 2007-08. And also, because Boqvist may still be 2-3 years away from playing in the NHL on a full-time basis.

Still, the Blackhawks very much are monitoring his progression this week and view him as a big part of the future. They got their first glimpse of Boqvist in game action in Tuesday's preseason opener vs. Columbus, which admittedly wasn't his best game —  he was on the ice for six shot attempts for and 16 against at even strength, the worst differential on the team — but the most important part of it was simply getting a feel for the pace and the size of the players he's going up against.

"I was a little nervous when I saw Seth Jones, those types of players, I've looked up to them, so that was a little bit [nerve-wracking]," Boqvist said. "But you're there for one thing, so go out and play your best game.

"I think I did pretty well out there. The game was not the best one, but a preseason game is a preseason game, so I hope I can [make] some steps."

Asked how important it was to actually get thrown into a game rather than a team practice or scrimmage, Boqvist didn't undermine it even though it was only a preseason game.

"It's huge," he said. "It's not like back home in Sweden at the juniors. It was a huge difference. How you can defend on smaller ice and when you should go or not go. I've learned a lot from the older guys here and hope they can help me this season."

From development camp to team practices and scrimmages to preseason games, coach Joel Quenneville is impressed with what he sees early on and had some high praise for the 18-year-old defenseman.

"Good, good," he said. "We liked him. We think that he can make some real special plays. Real good patience and play recognition. High end. Terrific shot. Deceptive as well.

"Watching him in the summer as well, he's got a great level of skill, play recognition, patience with possession of the puck. He's going to learn quickly that you got bigger guys, guys that know how to play and hold onto the puck and how to defend those situations in tight areas and with possession against you, so that's one of the learning curves that he's going through. But overall, he's what you call smooth as [Duncan Keith] says or [Patrick Kane] says."

Boqvist will be playing in Thursday's preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings, and will likely play a larger role in it with the top guys on the blue line staying home. It could also be his last one, with the OHL's London Knights season beginning Friday.

The Blackhawks want to make sure Boqvist is maximizing his experience here while he is around the Duncan Keith's and Brent Seabrook's, before taking everything he learned with him to London ahead of a crucial year of development.

"It's so cool to be around these NHL players," Boqvist said. "I try to enjoy so much here and take all the stuff I can from the guys here, so hope they can help me."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 9: Memorable Canucks series

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 9: Memorable Canucks series

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

After eliminating the Calgary Flames in six games and securing their first playoff series win since 1995-96, the Blackhawks were on to the Western Conference semi-finals, where they would meet the Vancouver Canucks. And what a memorable series this would shape out to be, the start of a terrific rivalry that would develop over the next several years.

The Blackhawks didn't have home-ice advantage this time, but it turns out they didn't need it.

After falling into a 2-1 hole, the Blackhawks evened up the series in Game 4 at the United Center when Andrew Ladd re-directed a Dave Bolland shot in overtime to put the pressure back on the Canucks heading back to Vancouver. It was a pivotal moment in the series, but the turning point may have started late in Game 3.

Although he didn't score until Game 5, Dustin Byfuglien was an absolute wrecking ball and unquestionably got into Roberto Luongo's head with his net-front presence and physicality. 

The Blackhawks locked up Game 5 in Vancouver and returned to Chicago, where they would beat the Canucks 7-5 in Game 6 thanks to a hat-trick by 20-year-old Patrick Kane. It was that night when Kane was coined with the nickname: "Hat-trick Kane."

And of course, who could forget Luongo's postgame press conference when he was moved to tears after accepting blame for the series loss?

Relive the series in the video above.