Blackhawks

DePaul picked 13th in Big East, Melvin earns second team honors

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DePaul picked 13th in Big East, Melvin earns second team honors

DePaul may not have a winning record or NCAA Tournament berths in the past two seasons to prove it, but people are beginning to take notice of the Blue Demons' improvement under head coach Oliver Purnell.
The Big East Preseason Coaches Poll was released today, and the Blue Demons were picked to finish 13th, in front of Seton Hall and Providence.
It may not be much, but it's the highest the Blue Demons have been picked in a preseason poll since Purnell took over in 2010. Last year DePaul was picked 15th, in 2010 and 2009 were picked dead last and in 2008, picked 15th in the preseason poll.
It may not signal the start of potential postseason tournaments, but it's a step in the right direction for Purnell, who took over a job needing plenty of roster turnover and, more important, a philosophy makeover.
"First couple days have been good," Purnell told CSNChicago.com. "Obviously I'm optimistic because of our core guys returning; that leadership group of Moses Morgan, Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin."
The Blue Demons finished last in the Big East a year ago with a 3-15 record, but even that was improvement from the last two seasons, when Purnell's groups won just two conference games combined. In 2008-09, the Blue Demons went winless before upsetting Cincinnati in the first round of the Big East Tournament.
But this year's preseason slotting, 13th out of 15 (West Virginia is now in the ACC), is indicative of a DePaul team returning its top four scorers, including junior Cleveland Melvin, who was selected as a second team All-Big East member.
Melvin averaged 17.5 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Blue Demons last year. He is the high scorer and fifth best rebounder returning to the Big East this season.
Melvin was the key piece to Purnell's first recruiting class, but his supporting cast has been almost as good.
Point guard Brandon Young and forward Moses Morgan, both of whom joined Melvin in the 2010 class, return as the Blue Demons' second and third leading scorers. Jamee Crockett, the team's fourth leading scorer a year ago, returns for his sophomore season as well.
"We feel like offensively we're going to be good. We feel like our pressure will be even better because of the experience we have, but we've got to make our half court defense a staple," Purnell said. "We've got to guard penetration, which can lead to teams really hurting you on the offensive glass which happened last year."
Last year the Blue Demons ranked second in the Big East in scoring offense (74.1 points) but ranked last in scoring defense (76.7 points). Young, who was in New York City this morning with Melvin, Morgan and Purnell, said the team understands their defensive struggles and has focused on improving it early in team practices.
"Coach has been stressing defense, defense, defense," he said. "And the first couple days of practice we had defensive mini-camp, everything is straight defense. So we're just trying to make sure our defense is much better this year."
One player Purnell noted would help on the defensive end was point guard Worrel Clahar, saying "what he gives us in addition to shooting is a lot of toughness defensively."
Purnell also gave his thoughts on incoming freshman forward DeJuan Marrero, who should be part of the rotation from Day 1: "He's part of the core of freshmen we've got. He has to give us some depth."
Purnell is confident that if the team can improve their defense and penetration, combined with the returning core, the Blue Demons will prove their voters right and be out of the cellar in the Big East standings.
"We've got to correct those 2 areas. If we do that, automatically we're a much better basketball team," Purnell said. "And in Year 3, we're really looking to make a jump."
Here are how the coaches voted on preseason polls and awards from this morning.
2012-13 Preseason Coaches Poll 1. Louisville (14) - 196 points 2. Syracuse - 175 3. Notre Dame (1) - 166 4. Cincinnati - 152 5. Georgetown - 136 6. Pittsburgh - 132 7. Marquette - 121 8. USF - 96 9. Connecticut - 83 10. St. Johns - 73 11. Rutgers - 63 12. Villanova - 61 13. DePaul - 48 14. Seton Hall - 42 15. Providence - 31 (First-place votes in parentheses)  2012-13 BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year Peyton Siva, Louisville   2012-13 BIG EAST Preseason Rookie of the Year Steven Adams, Pittsburgh   2012-13 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati, G, Jr., 6-4, 221, White Plains, N.Y. Otto Porter, Georgetown, F, So., 6-8, 205, Sikeston, Mo. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville, C, Jr., 6-10, 225, Dakar, Senegal Jack Cooley, Notre Dame, F, Sr., 6-9, 244, Glenview, Ill. Vincent Council, Providence, G, Sr., 6-2, 180, Brooklyn, N.Y.   2012-13 Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, G, Jr., 6-1, 171, Roxbury, Mass. Cleveland Melvin, DePaul, F, Jr., 6-8, 208, Baltimore, Md. DAngelo Harrison, St. Johns, G, So., 6-3, 202, Missouri City, Texas Anthony Collins, USF, So., G, 6-1, 175, Houston, Texas Brandon Triche, Syracuse, G, Sr., 6-4, 205, Jamesville, N.Y.   2012-13 Preseason BIG EAST Honorable Mention Chane Behanan, Louisville, F, So., 6-7, 250, Cincinnati, Ohio Jerian Grant, Notre Dame, G, Jr., 6-5, 185, Bowie, Md. Tray Woodall, Pittsburgh, G, Sr., 5-11, 190, Brooklyn, N.Y. C.J. Fair, Syracuse, F, Jr., 6-8, 212, Baltimore, Md.

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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98 Days to Kickoff: Plainfield South

98 Days to Kickoff: Plainfield South

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Plainfield South

Head coach: Bill Bicker

Assistant coaches: Adam Chavez (OC), Rob Szudarski (DC), Ben Delange (OL), Corey Carver (DL), Clint Reams (LB)

How they fared in 2018: 7-3 (7-2 Southwest Prairie). Plainfield South made the Class 8A state playoff field and lost to Naperville Central in opening round action. 

2019 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 30 @ West Aurora

Sept. 6 vs Minooka

Sept. 13 @ Oswego

Sept. 20 vs Oswego East

Sept. 27 @ Joliet Central

Oct. 4 vs Plainfield Central

Oct. 11 vs Plainfield East

Oct. 18 @ Joliet West

Oct. 25 vs Romeoville

Biggest storyline: Where will the Cougars place in the newly expanded Southwest Prairie Conference?

Names to watch this season: Senior RB Jaylin Eisen, junior QB Niko Schultz, junior OL Deuce Yates

Biggest holes to fill: The Cougars will need to replace eight graduated starters from last season’s defense, a unit that was one of the best in the Southwest Prairie.

EDGY's Early Take: Head coach Bill Bicker was able to put together a punishing ground game and a speedy defense to get into the state playoff field last season. 2019? Look for the Cougars to rely on an experienced offense led by junior QB Niko Schultz. If the defense can reload a bit, expect Plainfield South to challenge for another state playoff spot this fall.