Blackhawks

Patrick Kane cleared to return to Blackhawks lineup

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Patrick Kane cleared to return to Blackhawks lineup

Patrick Kane emerged from the locker room wearing the familiar red sweater of a top-six forward.

Gone was that white don’t-hit-me sweater Kane wore during his last practice with the Blackhawks. He was cleared for contact and is taking some hits around that fractured left clavicle that’s cost him the past seven weeks.

When asked after practice if Kane could play Wednesday when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round series, coach Joel Quenneville said, “yeah he could.” Later in the afternoon, however, that likely turned into a definitely.

Kane was cleared for full participation a few hours after practice, the team announced. Dr. Michael Terry released a statement regarding Kane around 5 p.m. Monday.

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“Patrick has been working extremely diligently with his rehabilitation and has recently returned to full-contact practice without any difficulty,” the statement read. “After discussions with Patrick and the team, and examining Patrick today, we collectively feel it is appropriate, with minimal risk, for him to return to full participation.”

Kane was back on the second line with Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards – the trio that was stellar from mid-November through December – on Monday. Speaking before he was fully cleared, Kane was happy with his progress.

“Where I’m at right now is [to] just to kind of go through practice today and get as ready as possible and try to feel what it’s like to be in a game simulation,” he said. “I thought it was a good day, a good practice for the team overall. Overall, I feel pretty good. I just have to take it day by day right now.”

For Kane the wait’s been long, although not as long as originally expected. He credits the Blackhawks’ doctors and staff for that. Kane said he “pretty much had full range of motion within the first week” following his Feb. 25 surgery. He’s taken some contact, some pushing and shoving, but nothing severe. That will likely change when he does return to the lineup; it’s the playoffs and big hits are just par for the course, whether you’re coming off an injury or not.

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Kane admits he’ll be thinking about when that first big hit comes.

“A little bit. I think like anything you try to be cautious with it at first,” he said. “I've talked with different guys who that have had the injury and they say when you're cleared, you're cleared. You just have to have some faith and trust in the healing process.”

Richards, who missed the Blackhawks’ last three regular-season games with an upper-body injury, skated with Kane over the past week.

“He just looks like Patrick to me…” he said. “Today was another day that was a step in the right direction for Kaner and for other guys, so you wake up tomorrow and come back at it and see where you’re at. Either way, it’s exciting for everybody because we know we’re starting the best part of what we do, is starting Wednesday night, so that’s exciting for everybody.”

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With Kane’s return the Blackhawks get a jolt in a lot of ways. He was the most consistent scorer and led the NHL in points at the time of his injury. He’s key on the power play and also critical to the team’s puck-possession game, which has struggled in his absence.

“Yeah, it gives us a boost in offense and just overall play and our depth. We missed him,” Bryan Bickell said. “I thought we did pretty good at the start without him but not as of late. We couldn’t find a way to get goals. Hopefully he can spark us on the power play, which is needed. There are going to be more special teams in the playoffs.”

The light is green for Kane’s return. The Blackhawks were looking for a boost, a jolt, entering this postseason. They just got it.

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Jack Hughes

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NBC Sports

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Jack Hughes

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Jack Hughes

Position: Center
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from NHL.com draft expert Adam Kimelman:

The most talented player in the draft should be the first one selected. The 18-year-old has a package of skating, passing, vision and hockey sense that's reminiscent of Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane."

NHL player comparable: Connor McDavid/Patrick Kane

Fit for Blackhawks:

Listen, we know. Hughes isn't going to be on the board at No. 3. But let's dream just for one minute because when the Blackhawks jumped into the top-three on lottery night, the thought crept into everyone's minds.

Hughes is one of the most talented players to ever come out of the United States National Development Program, and is the most pro-ready out of any prospect in this year's draft. He could step onto an NHL team tomorrow and play in a top-six role seamlessly. 

Stylistically, Hughes' game is reminiscent of McDavid and Kane: A playmaker, goal scorer, smooth skater, unreal vision, high hockey IQ. He is the complete package. And just wait until he adds some muscle to his frame under the care of an NHL organization.

If the Blackhawks landed the No. 1 overall pick, their center depth for the next 7-8 years could've consisted of Hughes, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews. Alright, now back to reality. 

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GM Stan Bowman: Blackhawks 'unlikely' to trade out of No. 3 overall spot

GM Stan Bowman: Blackhawks 'unlikely' to trade out of No. 3 overall spot

The 2019 NHL Draft is 48 hours away from now and the Blackhawks are slated to pick third overall for the first time since 2006 when they took Jonathan Toews. Coincidentally, that draft happened to be in Vancouver. 

The Blackhawks are sitting in a unique spot this time around.

The consensus is that Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko will go first and second overall, respectively, which essentially puts the Blackhawks in a position where they have the first overall pick in a different draft. There's a large group of players to choose from and there doesn't appear to be much separation amongst them.

So would the Blackhawks consider trading out of the No. 3 spot if a team wants to make the jump and the Blackhawks feel good about their player being on the board a few picks back?

"That’s a tough question to answer because it's not like we have a magic formula that we’re waiting for some to call and offer us," GM Stan Bowman said on Wednesday during his pre-draft conference call. "If somebody made a really appealing offer then we’d have to consider it, but that hasn’t happened yet. If it does, then as a group we’ll talk about it. That’s one of those things where a team has to want to put together a really appealing package to move up. It’s happened before, pretty rare though. So I wouldn't say it's out of the realm, but it’s unlikely to happen."

All signs point to the Blackhawks keeping their pick at No. 3, as expected. And it sounds like they already know who it's going to be, which isn't surprising considering the Blackhawks have done extensive research on the prospects — both on and off the ice — for months now.

The Blackhawks staff met on Wednesday a group, they'll meet again on Thursday, and then one more time on Friday before the draft to finalize their list. At this point, it's more about ironing out the later rounds.

"It’s more just fine-tuning the list," Bowman said. "We have more than just one pick in the draft. We’re looking at players we think are going to be around in the second round, and then we don’t have a third-round pick right now so there’s a bit of a gap there between our 43rd and then the two picks in the fourth round. So we have to look at that and determine which players we’re going to target for those rounds. I wouldn’t say there’s anything new that's being discovered at this time of year.

"We’re not going to be cramming last minute. I think we’re going to be very comfortable with the guy we pick when we get to Friday night."

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