Blackhawks' fight for jobs gets serious now
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Steve Lundyemail@example.com Dillon Fornier, left, and Pat Mullane battle for the puck during the Blackhawks' annual Training Camp Festival Monday at the United Center in Chicago.
Let the real competition begin.
After four days of battling each other in training-camp scrimmages, the Blackhawks will open their six-game exhibition schedule Tuesday at the United Center against the Detroit Red Wings.
With only a handful of jobs open, these six games will decide who makes it and who doesn't.
"The (scrimmages) are what they are, but the true test starts when you play against other teams," defenseman Theo Peckham said. "Especially the (physical) style I play. You don't want to go out there hitting guys you sit in the locker room next to. There's never really that edge. Come preseason time there's another level you can get to."
Peckham, along with Adam Clendening, Ryan Stanton and Mike Kostka, make up the group of four players trying to crack the top seven on defense that appears all but set to everyone but coach Joel Quenneville.
"You're going to get exposed at some point on your back end depth-wise," Quenneville said. "Whether it's Clendening, Stanton, who stepped in last year and got some games at the end of the season and looks like he could grab some games again, Kostka and Peckham -- when you look at it on paper we might have as many as 10 defensemen all capable of playing games."
Clendening had 46 points at Rockford last season and is considered a power-play specialist, which enhances his chances to stick around.
"We'll see how he handles this year," Quenneville said. "He's one of those defensemen in today's game that can make and see plays. Offensively and defensively, he could make a nice addition to your team."
Peckham, the 75th player taken in the 2006 draft who played 160 games with Edmonton over three seasons, at 6-feet-2, 246 pounds, is the kind of physical defenseman the Hawks could use.
"Last year was a pretty disappointing for me," said Peckham, who appeared in just 12 games with three different teams in three different leagues. "I'm just here to show I belong.
"All you can do is make it as hard as you can on them. Them having tough choices is a good thing. Hopefully I can open some eyes and stick around."
There are two to three jobs open at forward with Jimmy Hayes, Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri the likely candidates to fill them.
Hayes had a great week at Notre Dame and appears to be the leading candidate going into the preseason.
"There are a couple spots available for the younger guys, and obviously I want to be one of those guys," Hayes said. "I've got to learn to be consistent and play hard every night. Being consistent and a big, powerful presence is going to be the key to my game."
Pirri, who came to camp with the opportunity to grab the second-line center job, has watched as Brandon Saad has moved ahead of him in the race to grab that coveted spot.
"It's healthy competition, and obviously there can be only one man for the job," Pirri said. "As long as the team is winning, they're going to put the best players out there."
Pirri would be willing to play on the third line or fourth line in order to make the team. "I'll do whatever I have to in order to make this team," he said. "I'd be happy to do that and do it with a smile."
Quenneville isn't ready to handicap the race for jobs at forward.
"We talk about who's going to make our team coming from Rockford, whether it's going to be Ben Smith, you talk about Pirri, you talk about Jimmy Hayes, you talk about Morin -- these guys are going to be competing and it's something we're going to be evaluating as we go through training camp," Quenneville said. "We don't want to say, 'That's the guy.' Let's see how it plays out."
•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.
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