Blackhawks

Younger Blackhawks helping the cause this season

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Younger Blackhawks helping the cause this season

Erik Gustafsson and his agent were weighing Gustafsson’s options last spring.

The defenseman was either going to stay in Sweden another year or sign with the Blackhawks. The latter had one caveat: What if he signed and there was no spot available for a while on the usually deep Blackhawks roster?

“But we talked a lot and thought, if you do take a spot on this team, you’ll have a lot of guys who will help you a lot and stuff like that,” Gustafsson said. “I think it paid off here a little bit.”

Gustafsson is in the same situation as a few other young Blackhawks this season. Whether it’s due to the offseason changes or some in-season trades/injuries, they’re getting great opportunities to help the Blackhawks maintain their recent level of success. Be it Gustafsson, Phillip Danault, Artemi Panarin, Dennis Rasmussen or others, the opportunity has been seized.

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With Panarin, there was no doubt he was going to play with the Blackhawks this season. Same with Trevor van Riemsdyk, who came back for the Stanley Cup Final but was otherwise sidelined a good deal of the season with injuries. Others entered the season figuring it would take time to get up here. Gustafsson started the season with the Rockford IceHogs. So did Danault and Rasmussen. One by one, each got an opportunity.

And they’re all still here.

“It’s awesome to be here. It’s what you want, and now you’re here and you want to stick with the team and go for the Cup,” Rasmussen said. “At the same time you take it day by day. I try to prove myself every day.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said the young guys have stepped up when necessary.

“We’ve had a number of guys earlier on in the year who are getting a chance to play. It’s been a number of guys from Rockford who have come in and gotten their turn. Some of them seized the opportunity to play here, but they’ve made a difference,” Quenneville said. “Some guys are getting quality ice time as we’ve gone along here.”

Players, especially young, unproven players, get that ice time thanks in large part to performance. It’s also about trust. The thought that Quenneville doesn’t trust young players is foolish: Quenneville has given young guys extra ice time and/or responsibilities if they’ve shown they’re capable of handling them. He trusted van Riemsdyk immediately last season. This season, Gustafsson is averaging about 16 minutes per game and is part of the Blackhawks’ power play. Van Riemsdyk has become part of the penalty kill.

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You could include Teuvo Teravainen, too; Teravainen filled the top-line center role when Jonathan Toews was out against Colorado and got a shot at left wing when Artemi Panarin missed his first game on Tuesday. He’s also logged power play and penalty kill time.

“Of course, you want a coach that trusts you and believes in you when you’re out there,” Gustafsson said. “I just want to show them all the time that they can trust me out there.”

Andrew Desjardins, who’s played with Danault and Teravainen for several weeks, has been impressed with how young players have worked their way into the lineup.

“Honestly, I can’t say anything but good things about these guys,” Desjardins said. “It seems like they’re veterans already the way they prepare themselves and the way they play the game. It’s pretty amazing. I look at myself when I first came into the league, how I felt and how these guys just embraced it real quick and made a difference fast. They did the right things right away.”

The Blackhawks knew they were going to have to rely on some up-and-coming guys this season. Some have worked a few years in Rockford before getting this chance. Some signed this offseason in the hopes of earning an opportunity. For several, it’s worked out well.

“It’s definitely a fun situation to come into," van Riemsdyk said. “You have so many guys who have such long résumés with so many great accomplishments on there. It’s so nice to learn from those guys who know exactly what it takes. It’s a real privilege and honor to be a small part of this team. Every day I think of how lucky I am to be a part of this.”

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

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AP

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

The Blackhawks announced Monday that they have officially agreed to terms with forward Dominik Kahun, defensemen Lucas Carlsson and Darren Raddysh and goaltender Kevin Lankinen on entry-level contracts.

Kahun ($925,000 cap hit), Lankinen ($925,000) and Raddysh ($730,000) each signed two-year deals that run through the 2019-20 season while Carlsson's is a three-year deal that runs through the 2020-21 campaign and carries a cap hit of $792,500.

So who are these guys? Let's meet them:

Carlsson

Drafted in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2016, Carlsson set a career-high with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 44 games this season with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League. He was tied for fourth among all blue liners with seven goals.

Carlsson, 20, doesn't have major upside, but he's a reliable, well-rounded defenseman and that's what drew the attention of Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley.

“When he’s on the ice, he makes things happen," Kelley told Scott Powers of The Athletic last summer. "I think what impressed the Sweden under-20 coach was Lucas’ ability to challenge in all three zones. He’s an active defensively. Offensively, he challenges. He keeps plays alive.”

Kahun

The 22-year-old forward spent the last four seasons with EHC München of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top professional hockey league, where he established career highs in assists (29), points (41) and tied a personal best with 12 goals, leading Munchen to their third straight championship in 2018 after recording four goals and 10 assists in 17 playoff contests.

He raised eyebrows at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he compiled five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games and won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs (41 of 74), helping Germany capture a silver medal.

“He has made an enormous step this year, has become much more stable and mature," German national team coach Marco Sturm said after the Olympics. "I am sure that he would grab it in the NHL,” Sturm told the Hamburger Morgenpost.

Most recently, Kahun had a goal and two assists in seven games for Germany during the IIHF Men's World Championship. He's 5-foot-11, 176 pounds whose known to be a solid two-way player and can play center but may need some time to adjust to the smaller ice surface and NHL style of speed and physicality.

Lankinen 

Lankinen is 23 years old and coming off a season in which he was in the discussion for the Urpo Ylönen trophy, annually awarded to the top goaltender of the Finnish Elite League, after registering a league-best 1.33 goals against average and .946 save percentage in 15 games with HIFK.

He missed a large portion of the season because of an injury, but it didn't stop him from turning in a strong postseason, guiding his team to a bronze medal after posting a 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage in 13 playoff games. The year before that, he led the league with seven shutouts in 42 games, backstopping his team to a silver medal.

This is a low-risk, medium-sized reward signing for the Blackhawks, who could use some more young goaltending depth in the pipeline, especially given how this season unfolded with the big club.

Raddysh

The Blackhawks signed Raddysh to a one-year AHL contract last June, and he turned it into an NHL one after a strong season with the Rockford IceHogs.

Raddysh, 22, accumulated 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 66 regular-season games with the IceHogs, and has appeared in each of the team's playoff games en route to the Western Conference Final.

Last season Raddysh was named the OHL's top defenseman after scoring 16 goals and 65 assists for 81 points in 62 games for the Erie Otters, where he was teammates with current Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat. He's the Otters' all-time leader in assists (143) and points (184) among defensemen.

Raddysh might be nothing more than a depth defenseman, but his development is worth monitoring because the offensive production is there and that's something the Blackhawks lacked this past season from their back end.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

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AP

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

Days after putting his Gold Coast condo on the market, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa revealed to a Slovakian newspaper that he is moving back to his hometown country and doesn't plan on returning to the NHL.

"I will not play hockey anymore," said Hossa, who missed the entire 2017-18 campaign due to a progressive skin disorder and the side effects of the medications involved to treat it. "I have a valid contract with Chicago for the next three years, but I have only one health and it does not allow me to return."

Because he has three years left on a deal that carries a $5.275 million cap hit, Hossa is not expected to sign his retirement papers until the contract is completed or else it would result in salary cap consequences.

The news is not surprising, but it officially allows the Blackhawks to move on without him in the fold roster-wise and toy around with some options this summer.

The first is stashing his contract on long-term injured reserve, as they did last season when they utilized the in-season preference.

The second, which Hossa wondered could happen, is finding a trade partner that would absorb the remainder of his contract, usually done by lower payroll teams aiming to reach the cap floor.

And it wouldn't be difficult trying to find a buyer, considering Hossa's actual salary is $1 million per year over the next three seasons. Hossa, of course, has a no movement clause but it's likely he would waive it given his status at this point.

The good news for Chicago is, the three-time Stanley Cup winner didn't rule out joining the Blackhawks organization in some capacity after his contract expires in 2020-21, whether it's in a front office role or as a team ambassador.

In 19 NHL seasons, Hossa accumulated 525 goals and 609 assists for 1,134 points in 1,309 regular-season games, and added 149 points (52 goals, 97 assists) in 205 postseason contests. He's one of 45 players in league history to net at least 500 goals in his career.