5 things for Blackhawks fans to keep an eye on during training camp

 
 
Updated 9/12/2018 10:59 AM
hello
  • Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford makes a save during last year's preseason.

    Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford makes a save during last year's preseason. Associated Press

Finally, the wait is over.

After five long months, the Blackhawks get back on the ice as they open training camp at the MB Ice Arena at 10 a.m. Friday. When the season begins Oct. 4 at Ottawa, the Hawks will be looking to erase the memories of a 33-39-10 season that found them out of the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

As for what you can expect out of the 2018-19 squad?

This could be a playoff team. Or a last-place team.

Joel Quenneville may be in his final weeks or months as coach. Or he might last the entire season as he helps the Hawks again become a contender. General Manager Stan Bowman is squarely on the hot seat as well.

Before those storylines play out, some points to ponder:

Corey Crawford is greeted by fans before last year's opener at the United Center.
Corey Crawford is greeted by fans before last year's opener at the United Center. - DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO
1. Is Crawford healthy?

Bowman said last week he believes goalie Corey Crawford is ready to go.

If Crawford is on the ice Friday, it bodes well for the Hawks. If he can go through a full training camp, get in two or three preseason games and return to form, then look out.

If not? Then really look out. Things could get ugly.

Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju, 19, says he's dreaming big and hopes to make the team.
Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju, 19, says he's dreaming big and hopes to make the team. - Associated Press
2. Is Jokiharju ready?

Barring a trade or injury, the Hawks' top six defensemen figure to be Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta, Brandon Manning and Erik Gustafsson.

So who fills the final spot? Many fans are hoping it's Henri Jokiharju, whom the Hawks took 29th overall in the 2017 draft. Jokiharju had an impressive 12-goal, 59-assist campaign for the Portland Winterhawks last season, but Quenneville and Bowman must determine if the 19-year-old is ready for the rigors of an 82-game season.

"You want to set the bar high," Jokiharju said at development camp in July. "You don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big."

The top contenders to fill the seventh spot include Carl Dahlstrom, Blake Hillman and Dennis Gilbert. Gustav Forsling is out until mid-December after wrist surgery.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville looks to get his team back to the playoffs.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville looks to get his team back to the playoffs. - Associated Press
3. Line 'em up:

The preseason is great for trying different line combinations, but it's also vital for players as they learn each other's tendencies. Quenneville will mix it up during practices and games, but don't be surprised if the top lines end up looking like this: Dylan Sikura-Jonathan Toews-Brandon Saad; Alex DeBrincat-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane.

There's potentially not enough of a defensive component with that Kane line, although Quenneville raved about DeBrincat's overall awareness last season, plus Schmaltz is getting better at breaking up plays. One things's for sure: If those three play together, they could wreak havoc offensively.

"I really enjoyed playing with Brinks at the Worlds and I enjoyed playing with Schmaltzy last year throughout the season," Kane said. "I think it could be a good line if that was the case. I guess we'll see what happens."

4. Step up or step aside:

Artem Anisimov, Marcus Kruger, Chris Kunitz and most likely Victor Ejdsell figure to fill in four of the bottom six forward spots.

After that?

Versatile center David Kampf and hard-hitting winger John Hayden have to be the favorites to fill two of the remaining three or four spots. They can't be considered locks with a half-dozen other talented youngsters breathing down their necks.

Keep an eye on: Matthew Highmore (24 goals with Rockford; 13 games with Hawks last year); Luke Johnson (a defensive-minded center who excels on the penalty kill); the sizzling-fast -- and finally healthy -- Alexandre Fortin; overseas additions Dominik Kahun and Jacob Nilsson; Jordan Schroeder (acquired from Columbus); and perhaps even Tyler Sikura, who had 23 goals for the IceHogs in 2017-18.

Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman discusses the coming season at the team convention in late July.
Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman discusses the coming season at the team convention in late July. - Associated Press
5. A big move coming?

The Hawks have nearly $5.5 million in salary cap space, and rumors have swirled during the off-season that Brandon Saad or Artem Anisimov may be on the move. Both have three years remaining on their contracts and could add stability to another team.

In return, the Hawks could look to acquire Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk ($4.83 million cap hit through 2019-20) or Ottawa D-man Erik Karlsson (an unrestricted free agent after this season).

Karlsson is likely a pipe dream, however, with the Golden Knights, Lightning, Sharks and Stars among the front-runners to acquire his services.

So how about Artemi Panarin? The Russian superstar has one year left on his deal and almost certainly will not re-sign with Columbus after the season. The Blue Jackets will be asking for an awful lot, though, and likely won't part with Panarin until at least a good chunk of the season is over.

Stay tuned. It figures to be an interesting few weeks.

• Follow John on Twitter @johndietzdh

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.