Colliton excited to coach Blackhawks' versatile, gritty lineup
When general manager Stan Bowman met the media on locker cleanout day in April, he went out of his way to point out that the Blackhawks played at a 100-point pace over the final 50 games of the season.
He liked how players were progressing under head coach Jeremy Colliton, how they were responding to his system and how they were learning to play -- and win -- together.
One of the comments Bowman made was that he didn't expect to make "sweeping changes" heading into the 2019-20 campaign.
In some ways, that has remained true as basically all of the core players remain. In other ways, though, it can be argued that Bowman did indeed clean up quite a bit of his roster.
Gone are Dominik Kahun (82 games played), Artem Anisimov (78), Marcus Kruger (74), Chris Kunitz (56), John Hayden (54), Gustav Forsling (43), Henri Jokiharju (38) and goalie Cam Ward (33).
They've been replaced by what Bowman believes is a stronger, grittier and more versatile group that will help the Hawks return to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
His coach certainly agrees and is pumped about the numerous ways he'll be able to attack teams next season.
"Yeah, we've done a lot," Colliton said Wednesday at Fifth Third Arena . "We've really increased the depth in our group everywhere: In goal, on defense, up front. We have competition throughout the roster for roster spots, for roles. …
"If you compare the roster now to … when I first came in November, I think we can win in different ways, and we're prepared to have an excellent season, hopefully."
What excites Colliton most is the added versatility. Adding forwards Andrew Shaw, Zack Smith and Ryan Carpenter -- three players who can all play wing or center -- and veteran defensemen Olli Maata and Calvin de Haan gives the coaching staff myriad options every single night.
"I'd like to be a little less reliant on certain players who can only play against the other team's top players," Colliton said. "We'd like to use more of our group.
"We want to have a flow to the team where we can play at a high pace and put pressure on teams over a 60-minute period, and you need depth in your roster."
That depth will also come in handy when someone is having an off night. Previous coach Joel Quenneville loved moving a third- or fourth-line guy up to the top line for a couple of shifts -- or even an entire period -- if he deserved it.
And it sounds like Colliton will do the exact same thing.
"Not everyone's going to have their best game every night," he said. "So when you have players who can play left (wing) or right (wing) or center, or left defense or right defense, then we can play the guys who are going. And the lineup isn't as static.
"I think we made some major headway there."
Once the Hawks get deep into training camp it will be interesting to see who emerges for the final forward spot or two. Assuming restricted free agent Brendan Perlini signs and nobody gets injured, there are essentially 12 spots sewn up.
The final one or two should go to Anton Wedin, John Quenneville, Dylan Sikura or Aleksi Saarela. All except Quenneville are waiver-exempt.
The blue line appears to be even more set with all eight rostered D-men needing to clear waivers if the Hawks want to send someone to Rockford. That also means it's going to be difficult for Adam Boqvist to make the team, although a trade or two can't be ruled out.
Bottom line: Colliton loves all of this.
"We want it to be difficult to make the team," he said. "For a young player, it shouldn't be easy. They are going to have to perform at a really high level to push someone out and that's exactly what we want."
As for the veterans? Other than perhaps Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat, they shouldn't rest on their laurels either.
"I mean we have some really good players here," said Colliton, who expects fierce competition for ice time as well as roles on the power play or penalty kill. "All the great teams, they have that. … If we want to really make a run, we need to be 25, 26 players deep.
"You're going to have injuries. Last year we were relatively healthy and we can't expect that to just happen again. We've got to be prepared to win every night no matter who's out."