Chicago Blackhawks: 10 Hopefuls Looking to Impress at Training Camp
Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has added little to his roster this summer. This invites speculation that the 'Hawks are going to fill those spots from within.
It is hardly a secret that Bowman has been stockpiling prospects over his three drafts. The hope is that a pipeline to Chicago will start to infuse talent into the lineup.
Bowman may feel that the 'Hawks have NHL-ready talent and the time is now to start relying on youth. Which players will earn the confidence of the team in training camp? With the wealth of youngsters clamoring for a shot, we could be in for some surprises.
Here are 10 hopefuls looking to don the Indian head sweater when the puck drops to start the regular season and need a solid camp to do so.
1. Ben Smith
A week before camp broke last fall, Smith seemed a lock for the team. A concussion was a huge setback for the former Boston College skater.
Smith played very well in Rockford despite an injury-plagued season. After returning from the concussion, Smith had 19 goals for the IceHogs before his season ended with surgery to correct a hernia as well as torn cartilage in his hip.
Armed with a new two-year contract that includes a one-way deal for the 2013-14 season, Smith will try to stay healthy in camp and earn the spot he had looked to have a season ago.
2. Brandon Pirri
Pirri actually made the team out of camp last season but played just one game before the 'Hawks decided to promote Marcus Kruger. Pirri did play in five contests for Chicago.
After leading Rockford with 56 points, Pirri will have to show the improvements needed to stay in Chicago full time. He has to show coach Joel Quenneville that he is capable of centering that second line.
3. Brandon Saad
Saad was the surprise of last year's camp, winning a spot on the team after being drafted in the second round of the NHL draft just three months earlier.
The 'Hawks kept him up through the opening weekend, then sent Saad to his junior club in Saginaw. Saad also joined the 'Hawks in the playoffs after his season with the Spirit came to an end.
The door is certainly open for Saad to hang around for a longer period of time. He would benefit from a full season in the AHL, but a big camp may make it hard to send him to Rockford.
4. Dylan Olsen
Olsen spent 28 games up with the 'Hawks, as well as the playoffs. However, it seems as if he needs to work on his skating in order to make the jump to solid NHL defenseman.
Olsen is better off skating top pairing minutes in Rockford at this point unless he comes to camp with improved footwork. Unless Chicago moves a defensemen, it would take a huge camp for Olsen to make the team.
5. Jeremy Morin
Morin is somewhat of a forgotten man heading into training camp. After making a big splash in a nine-game stint in 2010, Morin missed the last four months of the 2010-11 season with concussion issues.
Those issues also kept him from participating in camp last fall. Morin eventually returned to Rockford after a 10-month layoff from action. Though he had trouble finding his game, Morin wound up with 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists) and showed that he isn't afraid to mix it up in the corners.
With a full summer to train with no restrictions, Morin definitely has a lot to prove in camp.
6. Pete LeBlanc
LeBlanc earned an NHL contract with the Blackhawks after two seasons in Rockford on an AHL contract. LeBlanc was with the team all the way through training camp last fall before reporting back to the IceHogs after the final preseason contest.
In Rockford, LeBlanc started slowly but wound up pacing all goal scorers with 24. He trailed only Pirri with 44 points on the season.
LeBlanc is a fireplug of a center who more than holds his own defensively and could see his first NHL action sometime in the 2012-13 campaign. He is probably a long shot to stick with the 'Hawks all season, but he could change that tune with a big camp.
7. Kyle Beach
In some ways, the 2011-12 season was a wasted year for Beach as he played just a handful of games. On the other hand, his early-season shoulder injury may have served as a much needed kick in the pants.
Beach committed to getting stronger while rehabbing the separated shoulder and came back in time to play the last few weeks in Rockford. Going through a serious injury and returning to action may have matured the big forward more than a season on the ice could have.
Beach will be looking to put up some big numbers with the IceHogs this season. An impressive showing in camp could serve as a notice to the team that he is ready to continue his learning curve in the NHL.
8. Phillip Danault
If you weren't impressed with Danault in camp last fall, his strong showing in Rockford at the end of the season may have opened your eyes to this promising center.
Danault showed great speed and a willingness to get dirty in the corners in a short stint with the IceHogs. He could make a lot of noise in training camp if he builds on the seven games he played in Rockford in the spring.
9. Adam Clendening
Clendening drew a lot of praise at prospect camp a few weeks ago from the 'Hawks staff. It would seem that he will be sent to Rockford after two years of college hockey at Boston University.
Much like Nick Leddy impressed the club enough to make the team in his first pro season, Clendening could be a surprise addition to the team, more so if Chicago trades one of its current defenders.
10. Joe Lavin
Lavin likely is in need of another season or two in Rockford before becoming an option at the NHL level. However, he rapidly improved with the IceHogs in his first professional campaign.
He notched three goals and 14 assists in 71 AHL contests with the IceHogs in 2011-12. Lavin can continue his education on the blue line and move a few rungs up the ladder before the 'Hawks break camp.