Invitees answer Blackhawks’ prospect camp call

Invitees answer Blackhawks’ prospect camp call

Jake Randolph wasn’t sure whether he should answer the phone or not, given it wasn’t a number he recognized.

“I almost ignored the call because I thought it was the usual telemarketer,” Randolph said with a laugh.

Randolph did answer it, however, and the “sales pitch” was an easy one for him to take: it was Ron Anderson, the Blackhawks’ director of player recruitment, inviting Randolph to the team’s prospect camp.

Undrafted players are part of a lot of prospect camps, and Randolph is one of 24 attending the Blackhawks’ one. For he and others, it’s a chance to hone some skills, to get some midsummer work in that can benefit them again come the fall or hope it leads to more opportunity – or a look – down the line.

James Sanchez, who hails from nearby Northbrook, is participating in his second camp in the past week. He was part of the Arizona Coyotes’ camp, which ran from July 4-8. Other than working through somewhat tired legs, he’s seeing the benefits of both camps.

“It’s surreal seeing the best of both worlds, seeing how they do it at different camps,” Sanchez said. “It’s an intense camp and an honor to be here.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Jimmy Schuldt and his St. Cloud State teammates were playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha when Anderson invited him to camp. He’s been to several prospect camps in the past but this one with the Blackhawks, his first, was an eye opener.

“The skill level here was really high compared to the other ones, and it’s been a really good experience overall,” he said. “[I was invited] in the middle of the season, so you’re not really thinking about it too much because you’re focused on the season. But once summer came, I was excited to come out here.”

Randolph (Nebraska-Omaha), Sanchez (University of Michigan) and Schuldt are returning to their respective schools this fall. Same goes for fellow invitee Sam Piazza of nearby Darien, who also goes to Michigan. They’ll all take lessons learned from this week back with them.

“You get direct exposure to all the NHL guys, which is phenomenal. You get to see what an NHL program looks like, and the Blackhawks is one of the best so it was a pleasure to be around it,” Piazza said. “The coaches on the bench will give you tips on how to play a little bit. It’s more wide open here than in school, so you’re just working hard and doing the best you can.”

Schuldt agreed.

“There are a lot of little coaching tips you don’t think about. Not that my coach isn’t good at St. Cloud; he’s phenomenal. But [you] get another perspective, more eyes on me and breaking down my game further. That helps,” Schuldt said. “Little habits I formed over the past few days I’ll carry over to my season and hopefully help my team.”

Most of the camp invitees wrapped up their time here with Wednesday’s scrimmage. It’s been a good week of working and learning, and definitely worth answering that call.

“It’s a great experience,” Randolph said. “This is my first at an NHL camp and what better organization than the Blackhawks, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.