Blackhawks

A Tale of Two Goalies: Niemi trying to find groove

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A Tale of Two Goalies: Niemi trying to find groove

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010
5:10 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. Antti Niemi has had this matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks in the back of his mind.

The 27-year-old San Jose Sharks goaltender was hoisting the Stanley Cup just a few short months ago. Now, much like the Blackhawks and his new team, hes looking for consistency and confidence in his game.

Could a matchup against his former team boost those?

San Jose coach Todd McLellan said Niemi is a potential starter against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, but Niemi said he hoped that he would be.

Its going to be special seeing those guys, said Niemi, who said hes adjusting to his new team. Its going pretty good. A couple of games couldve gone better.

Niemi has struggled with the Sharks. Signed to a one-year deal in early September, he looked to be the top guy in San Jose. But hes played in just seven of the Sharks 18 games, sporting a 2-4-1 mark and a 3.91 goals-against average. Fellow Finn, Antero Nittymaki, has taken a bulk of the goaltending starts.

McLellan said Niemis confidence level matches the Sharks, who have been inconsistent this season. But his work ethic has been stellar.

He hasnt worked his play up to that level he was at in the playoffs. Obviously hes not as confident as he was then, McLellan said. That doesnt mean he cant get there, doesnt mean hes not working toward it. At this point, he could be our hardest working player, which is a real good sign. I would be worried if he wasnt or if he was going the other way.

Fellow Sharks say Niemi has fit in well.

We havent given him goal support when he has played, so thats definitely made it more a little tough, I think, finding a flow for him. But thats more on us than anything, Joe Pavelski said. As far as working hard, hes earned everyones respect. He probably had it before he even got here.

Niemis hard work last season paid off in the form of the Stanley Cup. In 39 regular-season games, he was 26-7-4 with a 2.25 goals-against average and he usurped Cristobal Huet in postseason starts, where he was 16-6-0.

But a new deal wasnt worked out with him; and when a salary arbitrator awarded him 2.75 million in late July, the Blackhawks let him go and signed Marty Turco for 1.3 million.

I thought I would stay at first but then a couple of a weeks passed and nothing really was happening, he said. So it seemed obvious that its not going to be what I thought.

His start in San Jose probably isnt, either, but Niemi is working hard to get his game and confidence back. He said hes worked on some things with goaltending coach Corey Schwab and is feeling better with the results.

I think it all comes down from your confidence and just being patient out there and not trying too hard, he said. I think thats the No. 1 thing.

Niemi will keep working to try and get that No. 1 job back. Hes acclimated to his new home in every other way, so its probably just a matter of time until the on-ice game is comfortable again, too.

Hes putting a lot of time in his game. The last outings hes been involved in, hes getting more confidence and getting better, said McLellan. When you see how hard he works as a teammate, you appreciate him. He and Nitty, as a pair of Finns, theyre very close and they interact very well together. Were real happy with everything as far as that goes.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 3 thoughts and takeaways

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 3 thoughts and takeaways

GM Stan Bowman and head coach Jeremy Colliton met with the media before Wednesday's on-ice session to discuss a variety of prospect-driven topics.

Here are some of the highlights from their availability, in addition to thoughts and takeaways from Day 3 of Blackhawks development camp at Fifth Third Arena:

1. What the Blackhawks are looking for this week

It's easy to get caught up in prospect camp and put stock into on-ice performances, but that's not what the Blackhawks are doing this week. In fact, the on-ice portion is just a fraction of what these players have on the agenda.

"The big thing for us is to watch these kids, how much they can absorb," Bowman said. "We're throwing a lot of information. These are long days for them to have. Seminars in the morning then they come over and do on-ice work, then they do off-ice work and at the beginning of the week we have a cooking demo for them to learn how to prepare food. So at the end of the day it's a full day for them."

Colliton also brought up a valid point about prospects being at different stages in their summer training. Some players are skating for the first time since their seasons ended and are shaking off some rust. Some have already been training for months. Some players had long years because of deep postseason runs. So yeah, this week is not about evaluation.

"We gotta be careful," Colliton said. "This is a snapshot. At training camp and Traverse City it’ll be a much easier job to evaluate how close anyone is."

2. Early impressions of Kirby Dach

The Blackhawks did extensive research on Dach before drafting him No. 3 overall. On the ice, off the ice, analytics, you name it. But they're finally able to spend some time with him under their own roof and see his habits, how he carries himself, etc. and the early impressions are strong from the coaching staff and management.

"It's hard not to notice his skill level," Bowman said. "He's a big guy but he's got really soft hands, he's got that long reach and he's got a quick stick. He's pretty tricky with the puck. He's got the ability to hold it out so that guys can't poke it away and if they try to get it he can pull it through. He's got quick hands. And I think that's what you notice. He skates well for a big guy.

"These are all things that we liked about him when we drafted him but when you get him here and put him up against guys that are a couple years older, he's able to do some special things with the puck. He's got all the excitement to be on the ice, he's a competitive kid, he's focused, but he's enjoying himself and he's got a combination of attributes that we wish everybody had."

Said Colliton: "It’s tough not to notice him out there. Big, big kid who skates really well, got a lot of skill, makes a lot of things happen out there and seems to have a great work ethic and be a great kid. ... He’s been impressive, for sure."

3. Adam Boqvist turning pro?

When we talked to him on Monday, Boqvist made it known that he wanted to turn pro as quickly as possible and felt ready for it after one season in the OHL with the London Knights. And it seems like the management group is ready for that to happen, also.

"We're probably leaning towards that," Bowman said. "I don't know that we've made any declarations that's what he's going to do. In talking to Adam I think he wants to take that next step. It's probably looking like that, but nothing's been determined for sure."

4. Blackhawks accepting of Ian Mitchell's decision

After his sophomore season at Denver, Mitchell had a decision to make: turn pro or return to college for another year? 

The Blackhawks felt like he was ready to take the next step. Perhaps Mitchell felt so too, but returning to school for one more season, in his eyes, allows him to hone his craft even more and become a better all-around, consistent player before making the jump. That's why he made the decision to go back for one more season, and the Blackhawks are accepting of that.

"You got to give him credit," Bowman said. "He feels like there's unfinished business and I think he's committed to the team and committed to his teammates. He wants to lead that team and he wants to be, in his words, a difference-maker every night. I thought he had a great season last year and selfishly we think he's ready to be a pro. On the other side of it, you got to be where you are. So if he feels the right place for him is Denver then you want to be committed to that and you want him to lead that team and you want him to continue to improve.

"I think what we're looking for him to do is build on that and become a dominant player like he wants to be. Yeah, we would love to have him as a pro right now but I think he's going to be a pro pretty soon. So let him focus on his path. He has to believe in what he's doing and it's not for us to try to talk him in and out of things. Wherever he is, we're going to support him. But he's ready to be a pro right now. With a year in college as a dominant player he'll be even more ready to be a pro."

5. Looking for the next Collin Delia?

The Blackhawks brought six goalies to development camp. Two of them are draft picks — Dominic Basse and Alexis Gravel. The other four are here on invites: Devin Cooley, Stefanos Lekkas, Mareks Mitens and Zackarias Skog. They don't have to look far to see that an impressive showing could turn into a contract.

This is exactly how Delia caught the attention of the Blackhawks.

"We did this a couple years ago with Collin Delia and now look where Collin is," Bowman said. "I think that's the message to these players is you're here for a reason because we think you've got skill and potential as a goalie, and we want to see how you perform this week, how do you take feedback, what's your work ethic like and then we're going to follow them.

"It's not out of the realm that a couple years from now these guys could become Blackhawks. They're not all going to fall into that category but if they show well and they impress us, I think Collin came back two years in a row and then we signed him so these guys are here to try to impress us and show us that they could become Blackhawks."

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Jeremy Colliton on Blackhawks offseason additions and how he plans to handle Crawford-Lehner workload

Jeremy Colliton on Blackhawks offseason additions and how he plans to handle Crawford-Lehner workload

It's mid-July and the Blackhawks' roster looks very different from when it ended the 2018-19 season. GM Stan Bowman has added an influx of new faces this summer, whether that's been in the form of trades or free-agent signings.

Now it's up to Jeremy Colliton and his coaching staff to decide how they want to map out the lineup. They might have an idea of how they want to utilize specific players, but the real competition starts in training camp and that's exactly what the organization wants.

"Yeah, we’ve done a lot," Colliton said before Wednesday's on-ice session at development camp. "We’ve really increased the depth in our group, everywhere. In goal, on defense, up front, we have competition throughout the roster for roster spots, for roles. I think we have more versatility to our team, we have defenders who can play either side, we have guys who want to kill penalties and defend and take that role, we have forwards who can play different positions, kill penalties, play against good players. So we feel that’s what we were missing to our team."

"We’ve added a little bit of physicality and an edge, which we need to have that dimension. We have to win games in different ways, and I think if you compare the roster now to the one we ended with or the one we had when I first came in November, I think we can win in different ways and we’re prepared to have an excellent season, hopefully."

One of the main storylines to follow during the 2019-20 season will be how the goaltending workload is divided between Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. You have a two-time Stanley Cup winner and Vezina Trophy finalist to share the starts with, and Colliton expects it to be a healthy battle among the two veteran netminders.

"There's going to be competition, certainly," Colliton said. "But I think you look at the teams that have had success, there has been a share — some sort of split. It's not 60, 70 games one guy's taking. Those games that maybe traditionally the backup is playing, we need to win those too. So now whoever is in the net, we're going to get an extremely high level of performance. And if we happen to be unlucky with injuries, we have some protection there too."

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