Blackhawks

Experienced O-line aiding Notre Dame's Golson

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Experienced O-line aiding Notre Dame's Golson

Notre Dame opened up the playbook for Everett Golson last Saturday against Miami, unleashing the quarterback's athleticism and allowing him to run for the first time this year. The result was 51 yards on six carries for the freshman quarterback, with zone-read plays leading to most of those gains.
It's a play Notre Dame didn't let Golson run in his first four games, but as his ability to read defenses has improved, it has opened the door for the zone-read. Golson, though, doesn't even have 20 quarters of collegiate game action under his belt, so having an experienced offensive line certainly has helped him.
"It takes a lot off my plate, to be honest," Golson said on Saturday. "Going back to seeing those zones and stuff like that, I guess it feels good to me to know that if I didn't see it, they got my back."
Every offensive line acts as a safety net for its quarterback. But having a senior-laden offensive line for a greenhorn quarterback takes on added importance, even if Golson's learning quickly.
"Communicating, anything we can give him is going to help him and it's going to help us and it's going to help the whole offense," tackle Christian Lombard said. "(Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand) always says see a little, see a lot, so if you see something say something and it's going to trickle down to everyone.
"Our combination blocks, calling out linebackers when we got an overloaded box so he can check out of things -- there's tons of different things, I could go on and on, but he's picking up really fast," center Braxston Cave added. "And it's not even us as much now having to tell him anything, and he's making the calls on his own."
Golson played his best game of the season last week against Miami, and that was two weeks after he played his worst game in Notre Dame's win over Michigan. In between was a bye week, and coming off it, Golson hardly looked like the quarterback who threw two interceptions against Michigan.
"I think throughout the course of the game, I never really felt they were throwing something at me that we didn't see or prepare for," Golson said.
Golson credited Notre Dame's coaches for that preparedness, but Cave saw Golson's poise as part of him knowing what to look leading up to games. And while there's only so much Golson can learn without experience, his line is doing its best to fill in the cracks.
"He's picking it up," Cave said. "He's a young guy, but he's learning fast and the more I can do to help him to make his job easier, that's what I have to do. Being a fifth year guy, I've been around, seen every look, and the more I can communicate to him to make his job easier, the better it is."

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.