Spencer Abbott gets big call, even bigger opportunity with Blackhawks

Spencer Abbott gets big call, even bigger opportunity with Blackhawks

Spencer Abbott was already surprised that the Blackhawks recalled him on Tuesday night. Imagine his shock when he saw the line assignments heading into Wednesday’s practice, and he was on the top one.

Abbott had a good camp for the Blackhawks and is producing for an IceHogs team (21 points in 30 games) that has otherwise struggled. Now he’ll see if his AHL work translates into the NHL on Thursday, when he makes his Blackhawks debut against the Buffalo Sabres.

It’s actually not a massive surprise that Abbott will get a chance on the top line. It’s the second consecutive season in which the Blackhawks are trying to get consistent production from that group. Marian Hossa’s imminent return should certainly help. As for Abbott, he has to calm the “nerve-wracking” feeling he experienced joining Hossa and Jonathan Toews at Wednesday’s practice.

“It’s going to be intimidating, [but] I have to stay within myself and play my game. I can’t try to do too much,” Abbott said. “You have a tendency to look for them when you get the puck and get rid of the puck and give it to them as much as you can. I’m going to try my best not to play like that, just try to play my game and hopefully things work out.”

Indeed, it’s an easy trap for anyone on the top line to get into: you’re with Toews and Hossa, so get them the puck early and often. Let’s remember back to early last season when Teuvo Teravainen did that too much. It’s a delicate balance that Abbott will have to take. Hossa, who just met Abbott for the first time today – Hossa was at World Cup during Abbott’s time at training camp – said Abbott should adjust pretty well.

“Sometimes you can say they throw him in the water and now you have to swim. On the other hand, we’re just going to try to help him,” Hossa said. “He’s got what I heard, a good hockey IQ. I like to play with players like that. Hopefully we can click right away and keep it simple, you know, don’t try to complicate things too much. But I think he’s a smart player, so it should be good.”

Abbott spent one season in Sweden after his first go-around in the AHL, “had just gotten stale for me.” The experience was a good one, as Abbott improved his defensive game. But right now it’s his scoring the Blackhawks could use.

“I think he just gives us a little bit of offense, and I think that’s the mindset of him coming in here and see how he handled it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ll see in the course of a game but certainly he has skill and can make plays, and playing with top guys maybe you’ve got a chance to complement his type of player or role.”

Abbott shouldn’t be surprised he’s here: he’s done well in Rockford and he’s being rewarded for that. As for the surprise of joining the top line, he’ll have to keep those nerves at bay.

“They’re obviously both very, very high end guys. It’s a privilege to be out there on the same line as them,” Abbott said. “I’ll do what I can to keep up.”

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

USA Today

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks divided practice into two groups on Thursday and Friday. One of them was filled with NHL players. The other was loaded with prospects.

Dylan Sikura found himself in the first group with the prospects, and it's hard not to read into what that could mean about his standing with the team as the coaching staff looks to finalize its 23-man roster over the next two weeks.

Once thought of as a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, Sikura put up strong numbers in the AHL last season but his offensive production hasn't translated to the NHL level.

Part of that is because he was put in favorable situations in college and Rockford, where he played first-line minutes and was the go-to guy on the top power play unit. It was difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago when players like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are viewed as the heavy lifters on offense.

When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June for defenseman Olli Maatta, GM Stan Bowman felt he was able to pull the trigger on that trade because he was confident that there were players in-house ready for bigger roles and that could fill Kahun's skates. Bowman singled out Sikura specifically.

“Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura,” Bowman said at the time. “He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik has.”

Bowman is right. When Sikura was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season, the Blackhawks controlled 55.4 percent of the shot attempts and 53.2 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, those numbers dropped to 47.7 and 45.5, respectively. 

But through 38 career games with the Blackhawks, Sikura is still looking for his first career NHL goal and he knows it's a results-oriented business.

“It's obviously something you think about every now and then and it's tough but I thought there was spurts last year where I was really good," Sikura said. "And even though I wasn't scoring I was still playing and put in situations playing with top guys, so I think all that is going to help me in the long run. Coach always says you end up getting rewarded for what you deserve and I think if I continue to work away from the puck and work on that side of the game then the offense will come."

Sikura survived the first wave of cuts, which consisted of six players. But the next round is expected to be bigger and should come this weekend with the IceHogs training camp beginning Sunday.

Whether Sikura is part of that remains to be seen, but with a crowded forward group already and limited spots available, he might have to wait for his chance again mid-season.

“You always got to be ready, if it's going to be here to start the season or down there, you always got to be ready to go,” Sikura said. “You saw last year, I think when you're down there sometimes you don't think you're coming up then next day you get a call, so you always got to be ready and working on your game. It's a little bit of different hockey down there, but you've got to do the little things and I think my game kind of changes down there a little, but to stick up here I've got to do the little things and hopefully it all works out."

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Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

Detroit Red Wings

Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

After starting training camp with 55 players, the Blackhawks made their first wave of roster cuts on Friday and they weren't very surprising.

Forwards Nathan Noel, Graham Knott, Tyler Sikura, Tim Soderlund, Dylan McLaughlin, Kris Versteeg and defensemen Chad Krys, Jack Ramsey and Jake Ryczek were re-assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Goaltender Alexis Gravel was also returned to his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Blackhawks training camp roster now sits at 45 players: 26 forwards, 14 defensemen and five goaltenders.

The IceHogs kick off their training camp on Sunday, so expect the Blackhawks to make more roster moves before then. Saturday's preseason game against the Boston Bruins could serve as the final opportunity for some of the bubble players to make an impression before the organization makes their next round of cuts.

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