Blackhawks

Three (months) down, three to go

627212.png

Three (months) down, three to go

The Blackhawks put together a very good first half, but the very end of it has raised a couple of red flags.

Between the leadership in the dressing room and the coaching staff, this team has a history of finding ways to right its ship when it shows signs of listing. Every team has its rough patches as it goes through a season, and the Blackhawks have matched their season-high three-game losing streak with none other than Detroit coming to town - trying to make it four (especially after losing here last Friday). After riding high through December, one has to wonder if the Dog Days surrounding the All-Star break have come a bit early for this team since that last meeting with the Wings that closed out 2011. We've been hearing "outworked" from players after recent losses. It's nice of them to admit it, but that doesn't really fly with the fans who show up. It's the bar they've set for themselves.

Aside from finding ways to become consistently good on the special teams that have been a roller coaster the first half of the season, allowing the fourth-most goals in the West has to be one of Stan Bowman's and Joel Quenneville's biggest concerns. Heading into the weekend, only the 12th, 14th and 15th teams in the conference (Calgary, Anaheim and Columbus) had allowed more.

It goes beyond the group that has "D" listed next to their names, because there have certainly been enough breakdowns that don't rest solely on their shoulders. The second pairing will be watched closely over the next few weeks, and judging by the revolving door, none of the three candidates to join Steve Montador on the third pairing has consistently distinguished himself. Barring any injury-related needs that must be addressed, that's certainly what Bowman will be shopping for, trying to outbid other teams looking for the same thing as he seeks a trade partner.

The other tough deal he'll seek to find ideally involves finding a second-line center. Short of that, though, just finding a player who'd provide consistent production beyond Toews, Hossa, Sharp and Kane would be a bonus. That quartet has been tremendous through 41 games, even with Patrick Kane not scoring goals at his expected rate. But they can't do it all themselves, all the time. The occasional offensive involvement from the blue line is always welcome. But if you look at the first half numbers of some of the players Bowman and Quenneville have been counting on to raise their stats, it makes you wonder how long the team is willing to wait for something that hasn't happened yet. Sure, the primary roles of some of those players isn't necessarily offense. But you'd have to believe the bosses are looking for more - earning Quenneville's trust, and allowing him to get four lines rolling without having to turn to The Big Four.

In dropping four of these last five games, those four individuals have combined for four goals and 11 points. Recent call-ups Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw and defenseman Brent Seabrook have combined for five of their other six goals in that stretch. Of the seven assists compiled by the other forwards in those five games, Jamal Mayers and the now-suspended Daniel Carcillo have two apiece.

These Blackhawks remain better than a lot of teams in the West. There are a handful of clubs certainly playing better than they have these last ten days, and it doesn't take a long slump to shift the standings and potential playoff seeding. As they showed for most of October and December, they're capable of being the best, even when they feel they're still not playing up to their potential. Who knows - maybe they have issues with odd-numbered months.

Now we get to watch whether this is as challenging as it gets for this team and they again show their resiliency. If that defense and goaltending tighten up again. Whether the special teams get consistent and climb the rankings. If they can get the offensive balance the brass envisioned. And if not, how patient, or bold, management will be with the roster in order to become the best team when April rolls around.

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 4 thoughts and takeaways

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 4 thoughts and takeaways

Here are four thoughts and takeaways from Day 4 of Blackhawks development camp at Fifth Third Arena:

1. MacKenzie Entwistle's growth

When the Blackhawks traded Marian Hossa's contract to Arizona last summer, Entwistle was perhaps viewed as a throw-in on the surface in the seven-player deal. But he certainly wasn't viewed that way by the Blackhawks.

Entwistle was drafted in the third round, No. 69 overall in 2017. The Blackhawks had the very next pick at No. 70 overall and were preparing to take him. They ended up selecting Andrei Altybarmakyan instead, but the organization had their eye on Entwistle and it was important for him to be included in the deal with the Coyotes.

Entwistle took a big step in his development this past season. He started the season as captain of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the OHL, was traded to Guelph Storm and averaged more than a point per game. Guelph went on to win the OHL championship, and he was a key reason why.

In between all that, Entwistle represented Team Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. He scored three goals in five games and shined in a bottom-six, penalty-killing role. And that's exactly what he sees himself doing at the pro level, which the Blackhawks like to see when players accept what kind of players they are.

"I was kind of slotted into a role that was sort of an energy, penalty kill sort of type of player," said Entwistle, who's up 10 pounds from last year. "And I think for me that really helped me and it grew me as a player because at the next level that's sort of the player I'm going to be and I've kind of accepted that."

2. Alex Vlasic holding his own

The biggest skater at Blackhawks prospect camp is Vlasic, who was taken in the second round (No. 43 overall) in June. He's 6-foot-6, 198 pounds and is an absolute tower when you put him up against some of the undersized forwards.

He's a defensive-minded defenseman, and that's something the Blackhawks are excited about because he would complement their other offensive-minded blue liners well in the pros. At least that's what they're hoping.

Skating is going to be something he has to continue to work on given his large frame, but the Blackhawks feel he's ahead of the curve in that department and don't see it as a concern.

"He's pretty smooth," GM Stan Bowman said. "I think that's always the challenge with guys that big. He covers a lot of ground with his reach but his skating, he's kept up quite well being one of the youngest guys here. He's tough to play against, he defends really well and I think that's a strength of his guy. So I think it's just going to be a progression for him. He seems to have a pretty good understanding of his path and he's not trying to make the NHL [right away], he understands he's got some growth to do and I think those are the players that end up figuring it out as he's got a good idea of what it's going to take to become an NHL player."

Vlasic reiterated that he expects to play at Boston University for "maybe two or three years and then figure out what I'm going to do from there." Chad Krys recently turned pro after three years at BU, and Jake Wise is going into his sophomore season. Vlasic has been spending time around them this week, which has made it "pretty comfortable for me."

3. Nicolas Beaudin's transition to pro

The Blackhawks have high hopes for Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell, both of whom have been standouts at development camp. Same with Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander up front. 

Beaudin is kind of the forgotten guy, which seems odd because he was taken in the first round in 2018. But it might be because there's still a lot of room to grow in his game. 

After four years in the QMJHL, Beaudin is turning pro and is expected to start the season with the Rockford IceHogs. The Blackhawks like that they'll be able to have more of a hands-on approach in his development with him being under their roof on a daily basis.

"He's a smaller defenseman so it's going to be the defending part," Bowman said on what Beaudin's biggest transition might be. "We like his two-way ability. He was probably the top defenseman in the Quebec League last year. He was on a good team and played a lot of minutes. Played all situations there so you're trying to find your niche as a defenseman and I think the biggest thing is don't get away from what you do well.

"He's a pretty smart player, he's got some creativity to his game. He's not a high-risk player but he's got the ability to play offense as well as be defending and learning at his size how to play against bigger players. Have a good stick, use his feet and his brain to defend. All the attributes you want a player in the NHL to have. Good gap, force players to unload the puck before they're ready to and when he gets it he makes pretty smart decisions with it. So it's not one thing with Beaudin, it's becoming an all-around defenseman."

4. Dominic Basse’s side of the Mark Kelley story

One of my favorite stories from the NHL Draft came after the Blackhawks drafted Basse in the sixth round (No. 167 overall), and it waas told by Blackhawks VP of amateur scouting Mark Kelley, who shared the journey he went on to scout Basse for the first time:

"The first time I went to see him this year I drove in a snowstorm. Luckily it was 45 minutes from my house to get there and I got there and I get situated and I look out there, watched a little warmups, the game starts and he was on the bench. So he was coming off between periods, he was the last guy and I said to him, 'Hey, you! When are you playing?' And he told me: 'I'm going to be the starter tomorrow and Monday.' So I came back. He caught my eye."

I caught up with Basse on Thursday and got his side of the story and whether he recalls the encounter:

"I actually remember him. Good thing I didn't say something bad. I thought he was just a parent. I was walking through and he's like, 'Hey! When are you playing?' I was just surprised and was like: 'Sorry sir, I play this day and this day.' And he's like, 'alright' and just left and I thought, 'OK, that's that.'"

That was the only time Basse had any interaction with Kelley. He saw the interview of Kelley explaining his side after the draft ended, but it wasn't until development camp when he actually put a face to the name.

"I kind of made a little sense of it when I came to prospect camp and I saw his face again and I was like, 'Oh wait I think I remember that face. I've seen him somewhere.' And then it all came together when he said that during the interview. It was pretty funny."

Other notes:

— Kyle Olson did not participate in the on-ice session because of an illness. 

Videos:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

WATCH: Blackhawks' Kirby Dach wears a mic during Prospects Camp

WATCH: Blackhawks' Kirby Dach wears a mic during Prospects Camp

When the Blackhawks made Kirby Dach the third overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, they lauded his skill level on the ice and maturity off it. And in his first week as a member of the franchise, Dach has done nothing to dispel the notion that he’s the organization’s top prospect, shining through the first few days of their development camp. 

NBC Sports Chicago put a microphone on Dach for his second day on the ice as a member of the Blackhawks, and his skill level and leadership showed instantly.

"It's hard not to notice his skill level," said Bowman. "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.”

Dach has been increasingly vocal on the ice, getting comfortable with other top prospects such as Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell – a group the Blackhawks hope can soon become the future core of the team.

“Between Dach and [Alex] Nylander and Boqvist and Mitchell, those guys sort of stand out as guys that are probably above everybody else,” said Bowman on Wednesday. 

The Blackhawks will hold another split practice on Thursday at Firth Third Arena before a scrimmage Friday morning to wrap up camp. From there, Dach and the other top prospects will have to wait until training camp in mid-September to vie for the few remaining spots on the Blackhawks’ opening night roster. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.