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updated: 9/27/2017 5:44 AM

Who has edge to claim final 3 spots on Blackhawks blue line?

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  • With about a week left in Blackhawks training camp, there's a fierce battle for the final few defensemen spots. Gustav Forsling had a typical rookie season in 2016-17, showing he was capable at times but also proving to be a liability.

    With about a week left in Blackhawks training camp, there's a fierce battle for the final few defensemen spots. Gustav Forsling had a typical rookie season in 2016-17, showing he was capable at times but also proving to be a liability.
    Associated Press


Opportunity is knocking for a slew of defensemen at Blackhawks training camp.

The question is, who will bust through the door and earn a spot alongside Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy and Michal Kempny?

"We have a lot of guys in a similar boat that we're watching," said coach Joel Quenneville. "The competition has been good for our organization so far."

Many believe that Gustav Forsling is a lock to make the team, but he didn't help his chances with a rough game at Boston on Monday. With Michal Rozsival failing his physical, that means three spots are there for the taking.

With one week to go, here's how I'd handicap the race:

Gustav Forsling, 21

Experience: 38 games with Hawks last season; 30 with Rockford; two years in Swedish League.

Cap hit: $872,500

Shoots: Left

Height/weight: 6-0, 186

The case for: Forsling had a typical rookie season in 2016-17, showing he was capable at times but also proving to be a liability. The Swede skates well and has impressive vision when it comes to finding open teammates. He should open the season in Chicago on the third pairing, but must show he's improved as a reliable defender to stick for good.

He said it: "It's fun to watch guys come into the league and play such an important role. As a defenseman, it's tough to grasp some of the speed and strength of some players -- their creativity, things like that. But it's been fun to watch him. He's a (heck of a) player and is going to be good for a lot of years." -- Brent Seabrook

Cody Franson, 30

Experience: 8 years in NHL with Predators, Maple Leafs and Sabres

Cap hit: None. He's in camp on a professional tryout agreement

Shoots: Right

Height/weight: 6-5, 234

The case for: Tall and imposing, Franson has shown a knack for poking the puck away from forwards in practices and scrimmages. Owns an impressive shot, has power-play experience and isn't afraid to speak up on the ice. Gives coach Joel Quenneville a veteran who knows what it takes to win and play a safe, shutdown game on the back end.

He said it: "He's a great guy. Played with him in the (intrasquad) scrimmage. Teach me something in my own zone. It's not easy to be mad at that guy." -- Erik Gustafsson when asked if it's difficult so see the team bring in a seasoned veteran to compete for a job.

Jan Rutta, 27

Experience: Four years in Czech league

Cap hit: $925,000

Shoots: Right

Height/weight: 6-3, 200

The case for: Had an impressive preseason debut at Columbus, scoring a goal and playing a team-high 23:52. Also was one of the few D-men to play well in Boston on Monday. Shows good awareness and ability to tie up forwards using his big frame. Rutta has a solid shot and a quick release and won't be afraid to push the pace when the Hawks are coming out of their own zone. Big key will be adapting to smaller NHL ice.

He said it: "I'm here to prove that I can play in the NHL and make the team better. I'm getting used to the smaller rink; the angles are a little bit different. Reading the game used to be my strength, so I hope I can transition as quickly as (possible) to this kind of rink and let it be my advantage (again)." -- Rutta

"He's been real steady. I like his size. I like the way he thinks the game, moves. It's been a good camp so far." -- Quenneville

Ville Pokka, 23

Experience: 220 games in Rockford last three seasons

Shoots: Right

Cap hit: $650,000

Height/weight: 6-0, 214

The case for: After three full seasons with the IceHogs, it's probably time for the Hawks to see what Pokka can do at the next level -- even if it's for a short spurt. Pokka said he's a much stronger, more consistent player than when he first came to Rockford. Pokka is also a coveted right-shot and could easily make the team if the Hawks don't sign Franson.

He said it: "I don't think of myself just as an offensive D-man. I can play both sides. Play good defense and good offense." -- Pokka

Jordan Oesterle, 25

Experience: 25 games with Edmonton; 157 AHL games

Shoots: Left

Cap hit: $650,000

Height/weight: 6-0, 182

The case for: Oesterle signed on the first day of free agency, so the Hawks obviously like him enough that he should warrant serious consideration. Was top-scoring D-man in Bakersfield (AHL) last season and showed his offensive instincts last Thursday by pushing the pace and recording 2 assists vs. Detroit. In Oilers system, he always played on the right side, so versatility could prove a huge plus.

He said it: "The things that will make me stay (with Hawks) is competing as hard as I can in the D zone, and not getting away from what got me here -- jumping into the rush, being the fourth man up, moving the puck to the forwards as fast as I can and being like a fourth forward in the offensive zone." -- Oesterle

Erik Gustafsson, 25

Experience: 41 games with Blackhawks in 2015-16; 95 games in Rockford; two years in Sweden

Cap hit: $650,000

Shoots: Left

Height/weight: 6-0, 176

The case for: Moves the puck well and has good speed. Says he is trying to play more physical without the puck and also keeping it simpler when he has it. Played for first time this preseason at Boston on Monday and had a wild first period. Got turned around on a goal and committed a brutal turnover but also fed Brandon Saad to record an impressive assist.

He said it: "I thought he had a tremendous camp (in 2016) and looked like he might have absorbed a little bit more responsibility (at Rockford). I still think he could turn out to be a special defenseman." -- Joel Quenneville last April

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