5 questions to consider on the eve of Blackhawks training camp
Remember when Blackhawks training camp opened last season and Chris Kunitz found himself on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat?
To be sure, it was an odd decision by then-coach Joel Quenneville, and the experiment lasted only a few days.
But that's what training camp is all about: A time for coaches to see who fits where and a time to see what works in motivating each individual player.
Beginning Friday at Fifth Third Arena, it's 34-year-old Jeremy Colliton who gets to make those decisions for the first time as an NHL head coach.
Colliton, hired to replace Quenneville last Nov. 6, will have plenty of decisions to make over the next three weeks before the Hawks begin the regular season Oct. 4 against Philadelphia in Prague.
Here are five important questions:
1. Is Adam Boqvist ready?
This has to be the most important question of camp. The 19-year-old Boqvist is a defender first, but he also possesses incredible offensive talent and could easily quarterback the second power-play unit.
If Boqvist proves worthy of a roster spot, however, it creates a dilemma for Colliton because who is he going to sit among Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Calvin de Haan, Olli Maata, Connor Murphy and Erik Gustafsson?
And the Hawks aren't going to put Boqvist on the roster just so he can gather dust as a healthy scratch. The guess here is he begins the season in Rockford and gets a chance when injury strikes.
2. Is Kirby Dach ready?
The top four picks in the 2018 draft all played in at least 71 games last season. This continues a leaguewide trend of allowing extremely gifted young players to cut their teeth in the NHL instead of in juniors or college.
It's an extremely crowded forward situation, so it feels like a long shot that Dach -- this year's No. 3 overall pick -- will break camp with the team. Ideally, GM Stan Bowman and Co. would like to see Dach gain more experience and put on more muscle before exposing him to the rigors of an 82-game schedule.
That's exactly what happened with Jonathan Toews after he was drafted third overall in 2006. Toews proceeded to score 24 goals in 64 games as a rookie and 34 more in 2008-09 as the Hawks advanced to the Western Conference final.
Mapping out a similar path for Dach seems prudent. But the league is much different now, so don't count him out.
3. Who are the top six forwards?
This should be a fun competition to watch.
Who has what it takes to play with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome? Brandon Saad obviously has what it takes, but he spent plenty of time on the third line last season.
Assuming Saad gets the first crack, though, the last spot is up for grabs.
Drake Cagguila was fantastic with Toews and Kane before a concussion sidelined him for 13 games.
Brendan Perlini is a streaky scorer who might get a chance. Andrew Shaw's grit and willingness to get to the net gives him an edge. And then there's the unknown in Dominik Kubulik, whom the Hawks acquired from the L.A. Kings last January. He scored 25 goals in 50 games in the Swiss-A league last season, so don't be surprised if he gets a crack at it as well.
4. Who will win the final one or two forwards spots?
If the Hawks keep 14 forwards, it would seem the final two spots will go to some combination of Dylan Sikura, John Quenneville, Anton Wedin, Alexander Nylander and/or Kirby Dach.
Quenneville would have to clear waivers, which immediately gives him an edge. Still, he's no lock if two of the others outplay him.
5. Any dark horses?
Aleksi Saarela, whom the Hawks acquired from Carolina in the off-season, was extremely impressive during the Charlotte Checkers' five-game triumph over the Chicago Wolves in the Calder Cup Final in June. The 22-year-old Finn possesses a wicked shot and shows fantastic ice awareness.
He scored 55 AHL goals the last two seasons, so he's someone to keep an eye on.