We're less than two weeks away from the regular season, and the roster is starting to take shape for the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The two preseason games against Detroit are hard to put into any competitive context because the Blackhawks skated their “B Team” on Friday night against most of the Red Wings regulars, and then brought back their “A Team” at home on Saturday night against mostly scrubs for Detroit.
However, there are a few things we can take away based on what we saw from the roster dynamics in the two games.
First, Fernando Pisani continues to look like a fantastic addition, and should be seen as a replacement for John Madden (except in faceoffs). His play on special teams has been great so far, and he’s been able to keep up with the frenetic pace at which the Hawks play already early in the season. He had two assists on Saturday night and skated 15:04 on the third line.
Toews skated between Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, a line that saw a lot of ice time in the Stanley Cup Finals and was very effective in the playoffs. Kane, meanwhile, skated with Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stahlberg.
This line looked exceptionally fast on Saturday night, but it’s hard to gauge how they’ll look against Niklas Lidstrom, and not some guy who’s hours from Grand Rapids. Given Stahlberg’s size and speed, though, putting him with Kane and Sharp presents potentially lethal speed across the ice that few teams could rival.
Third, from the Pleasant Surprise Department, Jack Skille and Ryan Potulny showed up and played really good games on Saturday night.
Skille appeared more comfortable once he got his chance with some NHL talent around him, and scored a highlight-reel goal. After the game, Skille talked about his confidence being high, while Potulny should have earned a job as the team’s fourth center with his play against Detroit. Both looked great.
Shawn Lalonde had a rough night on the blue line, and Sunday morning received a one-way bus ticket to Rockford. It was his first preseason action with the Blackhawks, and while he was OK for most of the night, he was beaten badly by Valtteri Filppula in the second period for a Detroit goal.
He looked like a tentative 20-year-old, who looked like he was handcuffing the aggressive nature that made him a point-per-game player in juniors last year and was so impressive during the prospect camp in July.
Additional seasoning in the AHL should prepare him better for the big time.
Finally, the overall team speed for the Blackhawks looks like it has actually improved from last year.
Of course we haven’t seen a finished product on the ice yet, but with players like Stahlberg, Potulny, and Skille potentially replacing guys like Byfuglien, Ladd and Madden, there’s a strong possibility that this year’s group will have teams on their heels more often than they did last year.
Add to the team’s speed the fact that Marty Turco is starting to connect with passes to the red line, and the overall reality for the rest of the Central Division could be scary going into the 2010-11 season.