This is always one of the biggest weeks of the season for the Blackhawks.
Forget the draft.
Forget free agency.
Prospects camp that starts Monday and runs through Friday at Johnny’s IceHouse West is where the organization sees what it really has coming.
This is where the Hawks discovered Andrew Shaw, who was a vital piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle this season.
This also is where the Hawks saw how good Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy could be.
This is where the Hawks first saw the special talents of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back in 2007.
“What we’re trying to do and what we’ve had a lot of success is to bring our young players in and sort of show them a glimpse of what the Blackhawks are all about,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “Some of these guys have never been to a camp before.
“You can’t cover too much ground in terms of instruction in a one-week camp, but I think we want to try to get them acclimated to how we do things in terms of preparation and training and nutrition and skill development and positional work.”
The players also will get to know the city and each other over six days.
“It’s something we’ve put a lot of time and focus on, and it’s always nice to see the young players because it wasn’t too long ago that we had Shaw and Saad and Leddy at this camp,” Bowman said.
“There’s going to be some top-end players this year. Hopefully not too far down the road, they’ll be in Chicago.”
A total of 51 players have been invited, including 2013 first-round draft pick Ryan Hartman of West Dundee. Hartman, however, is recovering from shoulder surgery and will only be an off-ice participant.
Centers Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, both centers drafted in the first round in 2011, goalie Antti Raanta, 2010 first-round pick Kevin Hayes, a winger, and forward Garrett Ross also have been invited.
Winger Teuvo Teravainen, the Hawks’ 2012 No. 1 pick, will not attend the camp. He will be training with Finland’s Under-20 national team in August, so to limit the back-and-forth flying he will not be in Chicago this week.
There will be a lot of eyes on Raanta, who at 24 is older than most of the players invited to this camp.
Raanta was signed to a one-year deal in June after a breakout season in SM-liiga in Finland, where he was named the league’s regular-season and playoff MVP after going 21-10-11 with 5 shutouts, a 1.85-goals-against average and a .943 save percentage in the regular season for Assat Pori.
It was thought Raanta might be Corey Crawford’s backup next season until the Hawks signed 40-year-old veteran Nikolai Khabibulin as a free agent Friday.
Ross, 21, had one of the best 2012-13 seasons of any Hawks’ draft pick (fifth round in 2012) with 44 goals and 46 assists for Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League.
Saginaw also is where Saad played.
Ross was a runner-up as the OHL’s Overage Player of the Year, and he played two games at Rockford at the end of the season. He signed a three-year contract with the Hawks in April.
Drafting and developing remains Bowman’s preferred method for building a winner.
“I think adding a player here and there is certainly understandable,” he said. “But I think the way to build success and sustain it is to draft and develop your players and then add in the occasional player through free agency.”
That was Bowman’s blueprint for building the 2013 Stanley Cup champs.
“If I had my choice, I would do it the way we’ve done it recently, which is develop from within, have your young players emerge over time, don’t rush them to the NHL,” he said.
“Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that, and then when we find a group that’s had success, we can keep it together like we have this summer.”
ŸThe camp will conclude with scrimmages Wednesday-Friday. The entire week is open to the public.
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