Chicago Blackhawks Young Guns
The NHL has one of the shortest offseasons in professional team sports with just 118 days between the final game of the Stanley Cup finals & the first game of the preseason. Some players have less time to rest if they participate in extracurricular events during the summer like this year’s World Cup of Hockey. This can be a double edged sword, some players can stay in playing shape & be ready for the season while others get worn out from playing too much. Last season, the Blackhawks lost to the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs which was their earliest exit in 5 years. A few players needed the extra rest to recover from injuries suffered at the end of last year’s season, especially Duncan Keith & Corey Crawford who weren’t 100% healthy. Over the summer, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Ladd, Andrew Shaw & Teuvo Teravainen were traded to free up salary cap space which leaves some considerable gaps to be filled for this year.
One player to watch is undrafted Czech defender Michal Kempny. He played 7 seasons in the ELH (Czech Extraliga) which is highest level of hockey in the Czech Republic, then transitioned to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for the 2015-2016 season & quickly became his club’s top defenseman. In May 2016, the Blackhawks signed him to a 1 year contract with hopes that he will compliment Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson & Brian Campbell on defense. Kempny played well in the Hawks first preseason game & was praised by Campbell who played alongside him on defense. Tyler Motte is another prospect who made this year’s roster. He played in 38 games for the University of Michigan last year & scored an impressive 30 goals with 24 assists. Motte proved he belongs in this year’s lineup when he scored 2 goals against the Blues in the Blackhawks second preseason game at the United Center. Coach Q called him “special” which is a compliment in itself, but he also likes Motte’s speed on the penalty kill & his ability to use his time on the ice productively. Some early reports claim that he resembles Andrew Shaw with his size & ability to score in front of the net on loose pucks.
The trio of Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza and Richard Panik showed promise in the first preseason game of the season against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Schmaltz played with great speed & was constantly trying to set up his teammates for scoring chances which would make him a good fit if Coach Q puts him on the same line as Jonathan Toews. Schmaltz played at the University of North Dakota & won an NCAA title before getting picked 20th overall in the 2014 NHL draft. Gustav Forsling, the 20-year old Swedish defenseman was another standout in the team’s first preseason game & looked comfortable on the ice. He’s been putting it all on the line during training camp/preseason & his efforts are paying off since the Hawks decided to keep him on their regular season roster.
Alexandre Fortin had the most productive preseason of the group, scoring goals & turning heads with his speed and skills on the ice. The 19 year old signed a 3-year entry level contract with the Blackhawks at the end of the summer & showed that he will be a valuable prospect going forward. Although he’s so young, Coach Q said he is a quick learner & absorbs information which is a big plus when he’s surrounded by teammates with playoff experience. He will be an exciting addition to the Hawks in upcoming years & resembles last year’s Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin.
This season should be an exciting one to watch with all the young, new talent combined with the Hawks foundation of veterans. Coach Q will have plenty of players to experiment with to create the perfect balanced line capable of bringing the Cup back to Chicago. Plenty of seats are available for all home games by clicking here.