The reigning Stanley Cup champions' season starts Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche.
It's been a long offseason for the Blackhawks, and coming off a Stanley Cup victory, the expectations have never been higher.
ESPN's NHL preseason power rankings dropped the Blackhawks from No. 1 to No. 4. It might seem like a unfair drop for a returning Stanley Cup champion, but it's not. I want to see if this Hawks team can come out of the gate and perform like they did last year before giving them any preseason praise.
With the first game on tomorrow, I'd like to just give mention to a few things fans should be looking for.
1. Marty Turco and Corey Crawford
Everyone's eyes are going to be on Marty Turco, the new goaltender for the Hawks. The Antti Niemi release and Turco signing were the most talked about deals in the preseason for the Hawks. Many fans loved Niemi and are skeptical of how much success the Hawks will have with Turco in the net.
I didn't see anything in the preseason that made me doubt Turco's ability to win. He has a much better defense here in Chicago, great puck-handling skills, and is very smart in the net.
Backing Turco up is Corey Crawford. Crawford has had limited playing time in the NHL but has been in the Hawks' system for most of his career. Crawford should get a decent number of starts this season, and it'll be interesting to see what this young player can do.
2. Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson
The pleasant surprise of the offseason was the rise of defenseman Nicky Leddy. Joel Quenneville is very excited about this 20-year-old, stating that Leddy plays much older than his age, one of the reasons he'll be making his NHL debut Thursday.
Leddy was paired up with fellow defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson for most of the preseason. Hjalmarsson is one of the Hawks' best young players who is making a name for himself around the league. The Hawks already stressed the importance of Hjalmarsson by matching an offer sent in by San Jose to keep Hjalmarsson, a move that made the Hawks cut another player.
The two should make a great defensive unit behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. They're a perfect example of the Hawks trying to get their younger players to grow more by giving them a substantial amount of ice time.
3. Viktor Stalberg
The acquisition of Stalberg was the most praised one of the offseason. Acquired from Toronto in the Kris Versteeg trade, Stalberg battled with Jeremy Morin for a spot on the forwards. Morin was a huge surprise during the offseason, but Stalberg played a great few games, earning him the last spot on the team.
The Hawks are putting a lot of trust in their young players this year, Stalberg being one of them. He has big shoes to fill replacing Versteeg, but from what we've seen so far, there is reason to be optimistic Stalberg can get the job done. He's a player that will only improve as his career continues.
Be sure to watch the Blackhawks' season opener Thursday in Colorado at 10 pm Eastern.
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