Dietz: No time to waste for Hawks players on the bubble

  • Blackhawks forward Alex Nylander gets a step on Detroit's Alex Biega during a March 2020 game. Nylander is fighting for a spot on the Hawks roster this season.

    Blackhawks forward Alex Nylander gets a step on Detroit's Alex Biega during a March 2020 game. Nylander is fighting for a spot on the Hawks roster this season. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/24/2021 8:59 PM

Competition for the bottom roster spots at most NHL training camps is understandably fierce.

Stand out and you're in. Blend into the crowd and you'll get passed by.

 

That's why the first few days are so important for would-be fringe guys like Blackhawks forwards Adam Gaudette, Henrik Borgstrom, Alex Nylander, Mike Hardman and MacKenzie Entwistle, defensemen Ian Mitchell and Chad Krys, and goalies Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia.

The Hawks split 63 players into three groups. While Group 1 consists of many of the expected regulars, there are individuals in the other two sets who might elbow their way onto the roster.

But make no mistake -- it will not be an easy task.

"I think players are looking around and realizing, 'I'm going to have to really bring my A Game if I want to be here," GM Stan Bowman said Thursday.

Their first true chance to shine came during a scrimmage Friday at Fifth Third Arena. Second-round pick Colton Dach -- the younger brother of Kirby -- scored just 23 seconds into the first 25-minute session. Later, Nylander displayed his playmaking with a nifty back-and-forth move in front of the net to score another goal.

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Gaudette (nice pass to set up Reese Johnson), Krys (impressive passing), Mitchell (poised), 2018 seventh-round pick Josiah Slavin (physical) and Subban were among the others who stood out.

Coach Jeremy Colliton also singled out Johnson, Entwistle and Jakub Pour (12 goals in the Czech league last season) for their physical play.

Colliton and Bowman want guys who cannot only skate and play intelligently, but who also know how to make opponents pay with punishing hits.

"We need a physical element," Colliton said. "I don't think we've had enough of that over the last couple of years. We want to be harder to play against.

"I don't know how you win when games get tougher and (the) level gets higher as the year goes on and (into) the playoffs."

Colliton's Hawks have definitely had a difficult time winning important games down the stretch. Some of that is attributable to losing veterans at the trade deadline, but lack of physicality has been apparent as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Of all the bubble guys, most expect the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Borgstrom to make the team and to play a significant role. The Hawks traded for the former first-round pick from Florida last April.

"Big body who can skate," Colliton said. "He's got skill. Very calm with the puck. Makes the plays. Certainly everyone can see he's got some high-end ability. That big body and skating that he has, it's a lot easier to transfer it to the NHL game for sure."

Still, Borgstrom (11 goals in 30 games in the Finnish Elite League) fell out of favor with Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, so he can't think his spot is safe. Also, the fact he's not in the top group is telling.

Same goes for Nylander, who sat out last season with an injury. And Mitchell, who had an up-and-down rookie campaign and isn't the most physical D-man. And Gaudette, who also possesses undeniable offensive skill.

That's what will make the next two weeks so interesting.

We'll have to wait and see who stands out. And who gets passed by.

Slap shot: Forward Mike Hardman and goalie Kevin Lankinen went into COVID protocol Friday. There is no timetable for their return.

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