Six questions as Chicago Blackhawks open camp

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Who will play with Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews this season? That's one of the questions facing the team as training camp opens Friday.

    Who will play with Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews this season? That's one of the questions facing the team as training camp opens Friday. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/23/2016 9:10 AM

Chicago Blackhawks training camp gets underway Friday, and as a primer we thought we'd give you six things to keep an eye on in the coming weeks:

1. How is Duncan Keith?

 

This will be the story of Day One, as plenty of questions will be thrown at Keith about his knee. The 33-year-old defenseman decided not to play for Canada in the World Cup because he's still rehabbing from minor surgery he had last October.

So was the knee acting up? Was it bothering him at times last season? Or was this just a case of Keith being extremely cautious?

Stay tuned …

2. Who fills the holes?

So many hopefuls will be fighting for a few precious openings. Whoever impresses coach Joel Quenneville and his staff the most will claim them -- and then try like crazy to hang on to them.

"You have to bring it every day in practice," Vincent Hinostroza said at prospects camp in July. "There's so much competition, so many good players. It's just finding a way to be consistent every day."

Hinostroza and Tyler Motte figure to be two favorites to make the team out of camp. Other forwards to watch include Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Mark McNeill, Tanner Kero and Kyle Baun.

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They'll all be trying to fill holes left by Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Shaw. If they impress enough, they could push for playing time over veterans such as Dennis Rasmussen, Brandon Mashinter and Jordin Tootoo.

3. Who plays with Toews?

Jonathan Toews scored 28 goals for a third straight season but managed a career-low 11 of them in 5-on-5 play. A big reason was because Quenneville tried more than a half-dozen players on the top line with Toews and Marian Hossa.

Toews, who is by most accounts the best captain in team sports, deserves a pair of talented wingers so he can succeed on a nightly basis.

So with Andrew Ladd and Shaw gone, does Quenneville continue to tinker with an up-and-comer? Or two up-and-comers? Or Richard Panik and an up-and-comer?

Or should he move Patrick Kane up and find somebody else to play with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov?

Of all the questions to be sorted out, this figures to be one of the most fascinating in the coming weeks … and perhaps months.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

4. Is Hossa done on the top line?

At the Blackhawks Convention in July, Quenneville hinted he was open to moving Hossa to the third line to play with center Marcus Kruger and perhaps Andrew Desjardins. Hossa, Kruger and Ladd worked well together at the end of the Hawks' playoff loss to St. Louis.

A move like this may not only rejuvenate Hossa, it also could give the Hawks a balance they rarely had last season.

5. Is the defense set?

The top six D-men appear to be Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michael Kempny. Michal Rozsival should provide a veteran presence in case of injury.

Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg and Ville Pokka figure to be the odd men out, but keep an eye on 20-year-old Gustav Forsling. The 20-year-old Swede signed a three-year deal with the Hawks last May and might have what it takes to upset the apple cart.

6. Will long off-season be a blessing?

Blackhawks fans, players, coaches and management all were understandably despondent when their team bowed out of last year's playoffs in the opening round.

Nearly five months have passed since that Game 7 loss at St. Louis, though, and many players have spoken about how the time off rejuvenated them.

That being the case, we should expect extra jump, speed and determination from Toews, Kane, Hossa, Seabrook, Keith and Hjalmarsson. Goalie Corey Crawford should be sharper, too.

If rest is what the doctor ordered -- and a few young players develop into capable NHL players -- the Hawks might just be in line for another long playoff run next spring.

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