Can Adam Boqvist force his way onto Blackhawks this season?
During last year's training camp, 18-year-old Adam Boqvist showed right from the get-go that he could hold his own.
Whether going up against other Blackhawks prospects or veterans, or facing opponents in exhibition games, Boqvist impressed everyone so much that coach Joel Quenneville kept the young defenseman around for an extra week.
For a while, there was even talk he could make the team.
That obviously didn't happen, and Boqvist ended up spending the season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
A year later, it's fair to wonder if a wiser, stronger Boqvist might do what Alex DeBrincat did two years ago and muscle his way onto the roster. There are two flaws with that line of thinking, however:
• Unless there's an injury or an unforeseen trade, the blue-line spots are mostly sewn up.
• Throwing a soon-to-be 19-year-old Boqvist into the NHL before he's ready could slow his development. The Hawks have been patient with young D-men in the past and prefer them to gain more experience in the AHL, juniors or college.
So where does Boqvist stand?
Well, general manager Stan Bowman indicated that the Hawks are leaning on letting him turn pro, meaning Boqvist will either be with the Hawks or in the AHL with Rockford come October.
"In talking to Adam I think he wants to take that next step," Bowman said Wednesday as Boqvist and other prospects took part in the team's development camp at Fifth Third Arena. "It's probably looking like (he'll go pro), but nothing's been determined for sure.
"He had a good introduction last year. In training camp I thought he fared pretty well, got in some exhibition games. He's taken a big step, he had a big season."
'Tough to play against'
After a slow start offensively with London, Boqvist ended up scoring 20 goals in 54 games, and he added 10 more in 11 postseason contests. Eight of those 10 came on the power play, where Boqvist figures to be a huge difference maker for the Hawks one day.
"He's tough to play against. He's quick -- he gaps up on you quick," said fellow development-camp participant MacKenzie Entwhistle, whose Guelph Storm eliminated Boqvist's squad in seven games in the second round of the playoffs. "Then you give him time and space in the offensive zone, he's going to use it. He showed it against us.
"On the power play, he's got a great shot. I saw that too. He's a really good all-around player."
Boqvist credits some of his offensive explosion to changing his stick. He put more curve on the blade and lengthened it a bit.
"It worked," Boqvist said. "I just feel more comfortable with it."
Boqvist also grew more comfortable having former Hawks D-man Brian Campbell as a mentor.
Campbell, who volunteered to help with Boqvist's development soon after the Hawks took him No. 8 overall in June 2018, went to London at least a half-dozen times last season.
He attended games and practices, and also gave the young phenom pointers during video sessions.
"We talk about almost everything," Boqvist said. "(Have a) better gap, the first few steps on the ice, how to handle the guy in the corner. It's nice to have a guy like Brian. He kind of knows me as a human being now as well."
Campbell, a player development coach, declined an interview request, saying he wanted to focus on helping the prospects on the ice this week.
Boqvist, who returned to the ice this week for the first time since losing to Entwhistle's Storm in mid-April, will continue his summer training in Sweden with his brother and other NHLers like Nicklas Backstrom. He'll then return to take part in the annual Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, in September.
Then training camp starts, and it will be up to Boqvist to play well enough that coach Jeremy Colliton has no choice but to keep him around.
For that to happen, Boqvist must prove he can slow down NHL forwards on a consistent basis.
After all, as offensively talented as he is, Boqvist's primary job is still to help keep the puck out of the net.
"His offensive game is probably more developed than his defensive game, but he's come a long way," Bowman said. "Probably the biggest thing I've noticed is his defending with the stick. He's got a very active stick, and that's going to be something he'll have to be good at because he's not a big guy."
So can Colliton see using Boqvist this season?
Well, he certainly toed the line -- and played a bit of defense himself -- when asked that question Wednesday.
"I saw a couple of games during the year, but again, we've got to be careful," he said. "This (development week) is a snapshot and at training camp and Traverse City it'll be a much easier job to evaluate how close anyone is. …
"(I) certainly can see he's maturing, he's getting bigger and stronger, more comfortable with this level of competition.
"So that's a good thing. We'll see what happens."