Now that the lockout is over, the NHL will return to the ice soon. Teams will have incredibly short training camps and games are expected to start in the next two weeks.
So what will the Chicago Blackhawks look like when they hit the ice? Here’s a quick reminder.
The Blackhawks will have depth to work with when the season starts.
Including Nick Leddy (who has been skating in Rockford), the Blackhawks will have eight defensemen to choose from. Johnny Oduya was brought back, Steve Montador is healthy and the Hawks added free agents Michal Rozsival for one year and Sheldon Brookbank with a two-year deal.
That total is not including Dylan Olsen, who hasn’t been consistent in Rockford this season and will understandably lose a numbers game when the final roster is set.
Up front, Jonathan Toews is physically 100 percent and Marian Hossa has been cleared to play, meaning the Hawks’ top four forwards will be ready to go. But there are plenty of questions to answer with Chicago’s forwards.
Will the Marcus Kruger experiment continue at center on the second line? Kruger has played well in Rockford (8 goals, 14 assists in 34 games), but there are still concerns about his ability to win faceoffs at the NHL level.
Where do the other kids fit in? It’s reasonable to think Andrew Shaw would return after a breakout rookie season, but Ben Smith has done more than enough to earn another shot at the NHL roster in Rockford.
Smith, who was outstanding against Vancouver in the 2011 postseason before a concussion took him out of the lineup to begin last year. So far this season, Smith has 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in 25 games and has been the most consistent IceHogs player (with an NHL contract).
It’s worth noting that the new two-year deals signed by Smith and Brandon Bollig this summer are two-way deals for this season and one-way, NHL deals in 2013-14. Shaw is still playing on his two-way entry-level contract.
And how will the organization’s depth impact the futures of Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell? For different reasons, these three could be hot names around the trade deadline.
Stalberg had a surprisingly good stat line when last season ended, posting 22 goals and 21 assists in 79 games (thanks, in large part, to Columbus).
On the other end of the spectrum, Frolik and Bickell were frustratingly inconsistent all year. They combined to score only 14 goals last year, and the emergence of talented youngsters could push them for ice time (or out the door completely).
And what the hell can we expect from the tandem of netminders? Corey Crawford went from hero (against Vancouver) to zero, losing his starting job to Ray Emery mid-season. One of them will need to play consistent hockey for the Hawks to see the second round of the playoffs this spring.
Here’s our projected “Opening” Night roster for the
2012-2013 Chicago Blackhawks:
Center (4): Toews, Kruger, Bolland, Mayers
Wing (9): Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Stalberg, Carcillo, Frolik, Bickell, Shaw, Smith
Defense (8): Keith, Seabrook, Leddy, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Montador, Rozsival, Brookbank
Goalies (2): Crawford, Emery
Total: 23 players ($63,557,628 cap)