New Blackhawks following lead of 'locked-in' core


New Blackhawks following lead of 'locked-in' core

Trevor Daley had watched the Blackhawks from afar for the last several years. He saw how they worked collectively as a group, how they got through ups and downs and how they won — and won and won.

Now he’s seeing it up close.

“These guys are locked in,” he said following Tuesday’s practice at Johnny’s IceHouse. “I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”

The Blackhawks have done a lot of winning these last few seasons, and it starts with a core that brings as much mental toughness and confidence as it does talent. That core will be instrumental again as the Blackhawks defend their Stanley Cup, starting with Wednesday's regular-season opener against the New York Rangers.

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For Daley, the chance to join this group, and possibly win a Cup with them, is enticing. He’s willing to do what’s asked of him because, obviously, what the Blackhawks are doing has worked pretty damn well lately.

“When you come in and you see what these guys have done — especially for someone like myself, who’s been in the league a lot of years and trying to accomplish what these guys have accomplished — it’s a no-brainer to come in and see what they do and follow,” he said. “Selfishly, what a great opportunity it is for me to come in and have guys like this around me and be able to see what they’re doing. Because at the end of the day, these guys have done what every other team in the league wants to do.”

Andrew Desjardins said he observed the same things when he was traded here last spring.

“There was just that feeling of winning. ‘Let’s be the best team, let’s be the best team every night and let’s ... let’s win,’” Desjardins said. “Obviously there are other things: the mindset, play the right way, do the right things with the puck and play with the style that makes us successful. But the bottom line is to win.”

While many moves have been made since the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010, the core group — Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Kane, among others — remains largely intact. They’ve set the bar, and those who join the team have to meet it.

“The core group in here that really plants the seed of how things are done,” Corey Crawford said. “The guys who come in, our management has done a great job of bringing in the right guys to fill spots. It’s more these guys coming in and following what’s been going on here for a while.”

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At the same time, those new acquisitions bring some special elements, too. Many haven’t gone through the rigors of several long postseason, so they bring energy. And many — including Jamal Mayers, Michal Rozsival, Michal Handzus, Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen — have joined the Blackhawks looking for their first Stanley Cup. That desire to win one brings an enthusiastic jolt to the core.

“Just their attitude, their excitement,” Bryan Bickell said of what the new guys add. “I’m sure everyone in the league wants to wear a Blackhawks jersey because they have a chance every year. The excitement lifts us to give them an opportunity to win. We want to win for them and for ourselves, too.”

The Blackhawks are embarking on another Cup defense. The other two weren’t easy; this one won’t be either. But the core that’s been in place here knows what it takes to vie for another Cup. Those who are new to the program know they need to heed and follow the core group and adapt to the Blackhawks’ system for their best chance to win. Recent results show it’s been a successful blueprint.

“Guys who (have been) around and know the systems and lead by example on the ice,” Bickell said. “Our leaders show (new players) the ropes, what Blackhawks hockey is all about, what we need and what we look forward to for a season to be successful.”

Change of plans? Adam Boqvist could start season with Blackhawks


Change of plans? Adam Boqvist could start season with Blackhawks

That was quick. 

Hours after we wrote how Adam Boqvist has been flying under the radar this training camp because his NHL timeline could still be 2-3 years away — something even he admitted after the Blackhawks drafted him No. 8 overall in June — he put on a strong showing in his second preseason game on Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings playing on the top pairing and leading the team in ice time (22:15). 

His offensive skill is evident. So is his general skating ability. What really stood out was how he defended, particularly a 1-on-1 rush against the speedy Andreas Athanasiou.

This is the play that got Blackhawks fans excited. This is a player who has the ability to speed up his timeline if he takes advantage of this next year of development, which won’t begin in London on Friday after coach Joel Quenneville told reporters following Thursday’s contest that his debut with the Knights in the OHL is being put on hold because they want a longer look at him.

In fact, Quenneville didn’t rule out the possibility of Boqvist making the Blackhawks straight out of camp.

"I think as we've gone through camp and see him play through the games, we're watching him," Quenneville said. "We've been pleased with him. It's almost like, when you come to camp, we want to watch these guys. They make those decisions for us with how they play and it's been a positive one."

But that doesn’t mean he’d necessarily stick around for the full season.

Because he’s 18 years of age, Boqvist is eligible to play in up to nine games before getting sent to his respective junior team without burning the first year of his entry-level deal. He’s a slide candidate next year as well. It’s what the Blackhawks did with Ryan Hartman, who appeared in five games in 2014-15 and three games in 2015-16 before securing a full-time spot in 2016-17. That's the likely scenario if it were to reach that point.

It's hard to imagine the Blackhawks breaking in each of their top-two defensive prospects in Henri Jokiharju and Boqvist at the same time. And for Boqvist, you certainly don't want to waste any years of his entry-level contract when he could be using that time to truly develop so he could hit the ground running when he does enter the league on a full-time basis.

Perhaps the back injury to Connor Murphy, who is expected to be out until December, allowed the Blackhawks to view Boqvist's situation in a wider lense. Or maybe this was the plan all along.

Regardless, the Blackhawks may get a glimpse of the future quicker than they thought and it’s added a little excitement to training camp and the anticipation of Opening Day.


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."