Blackhawks open camp and are excited about where they're headed
From the moment one walked into Fifth Third Arena on Day 1 of Blackhawks training camp, things felt different.
The modest stands were packed Thursday, with some fans wearing Connor Bedard's jersey. And if you didn't own one, a booth was set up selling No. 98 sweaters, hoodies, T-shirts and pucks.
One day, kids and parents can say they were there when the Hawks took what they believe is a huge step toward becoming a Stanley Cup contender again.
Now, make no mistake: This isn't a 45-win team that will be in the postseason. But there's a feeling of hope that the Hawks are headed in the right direction.
"It's still gonna be a process," admitted veteran defenseman Seth Jones. "We're not coming in expecting to win every game ... but we want to be competitive (and) we want to build toward something. ...
"That's our main goal this year -- compete every game for our fans and see where it takes us."
Fans were out in force to see Bedard, who didn't do anything particularly noteworthy during a practice that focused on defensive zone assignments. He did, however, crack up the overflowing media room with a pair of one liners:
• On what he's gleaned about Chicago thus far: "I'm learning about the drivers -- they're intense here."
• On how his mom is helping him cook meals: "I just FaceTime her, put her on the counter and she tells me what to do."
As for what he'll do on the ice, the 18-year-old isn't worried about individual numbers yet.
"I'd like to set goals myself and my team and everything," Bedard said, "but it's just kind of tough when you haven't played at that level and aren't really sure what to expect. Every game I go into, I want to play well and want to win."
There might be a bit more of that this season than last. Or perhaps not. It's tough to say, considering how young the Hawks are defensively and how underwhelming the goaltending is.
Much will depend on how quickly Bedard gets assimilated to the NHL, how new veterans Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno and Corey Perry fit in, and how D-men like Jones and Connor Murphy keep things from falling apart when high-powered opponents attack.
"We have to build on (last season)," coach Luke Richardson said. "We put the next block on top. It means more execution. A lot of that is on the ice from the players, but a lot of it is how we teach, how we show video and try to correct and help them achieve that. It'll be a combined effort to do that this year."
Bedard centered a line with veterans Tyler Johnson and Ryan Donato on Thursday, but Richardson figures to tinker with forward combinations throughout camp and the preseason. One concern with Bedard, who is just 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, is one crunching hit could do serious damage.
We thought the same of the 5-7, 165-pound Alex DeBrincat, however, and he's missed just four of 454 games since entering the league.
"He's built," Richardson said of Bedard. "He's got the baby face and the young grin and the cool hairdo, but he's very mature beyond his years and he knows what's going on out there. He's built really low (and) wide ... (and has) great balance on his feet.
"He's kind of wired where he knows how to bounce off people that are coming at him and spin off, like a (Sidney) Crosby, and use that as a propellent. ... I have all the confidence in the world for him to be outwitting and outsmarting his bigger opponents when it's one-on-one situations."
Forwards Taylor Hall, Colin Blackwell and Jalen Luypen have lower body injuries and did not practice. Luke Richardson had little to say on Hall, who scored 16 goals in 61 games for Boston last season.
"We're hoping to get more information over the next few days at the latest and we'll try to go from there," Richardson said.
Blackhawks Associate General Manager Jeff Greenberg was named general manager of the Detroit Tigers Thursday.
Jeff Greenberg, hired by the Blackhawks in April 2022 as associate general manager, was named the GM of the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. Greenberg was instrumental in setting up the Hawks' analytics department. He was previously the assistant GM of the Cubs.
"We will miss Jeff's expertise and appreciate the contributions he made to the Blackhawks," said Hawks GM Kyle Davidson. "We all wish him and his family the best in this incredible opportunity with the Detroit Tigers."