In case you missed the news late last week, 2010 NHL All-Star Game MVP Patrick Sharp had an emergency appendectomy. He is looking at an absence of three to four weeks.
The timetable for his return is close to the season's opening, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville (a well-documented mad scientist when it comes to roster juggling) has all of the team's training camp to manipulate potential lines and special teams to see what he has on the 2011-12 roster.
With a number of new faces brought in this summer and a few kids hoping to make the big team out of camp, the absence of Sharp opens the door for some players to move into a position on the roster.
Here are five guys that have a great opportunity to establish their niche on the roster before opening night.
Brought in from Minnesota this summer, Brunette is a big body the team hopes can become part of the top six. He had a nice season for the Wild last year, and could be in the mix for the wing opposite Patrick Kane on the Hawks' top line. With his good hands and understanding of how to use his body in front of the crease, he could be a great fit there.
While Sharp is out, he could get a lot of ice time with Jonathan Toews and Kane. If they can develop chemistry early on, Quenneville's confidence in skating Sharp as the second-line center would improve.
Bickell is in a fantastic situation in Chicago this year. After a solid rookie season in which he posted 17 goals, the Hawks were comfortable trading veteran Troy Brouwer to Washington. Bickell is the most physical forward returning to Chicago this fall, and could be in line for a 20-goal, 200-hit season.
Two years ago, he saw action on the Hawks' top line with Toews and Kane against the Nashville Predators in the playoffs. He's a better skater than Brunette and has a cannon of a wrist shot. If he gets a chance on the top line, and wins a spot opposite Kane, he could be in line for a huge season.
Kruger is one of the kids fighting for a roster spot this year. Scouts inside and outside the organization really like his hockey IQ, and he got his first NHL experience with a few appearances against Vancouver in the playoffs last season. He's a center by trade, but can play the wing if asked.
With Sharp out, Dave Bolland figures to move up into the second-line center position. That opens up a spot at the dot for Kruger, who should get plenty of opportunities to win a job in Chicago. The front office in Chicago loves the kid, now he has to show them he's worthy of their admiration.
Ben Smith got the call from Rockford when the Hawks started losing players late last year, and rewarded the organization with an outstanding playoff series against the Canucks. He figures to be a grinder on the third or fourth lines if he makes the NHL roster.
With Sharp out for a month, and considering his performance late last year while on the ice with players like Marian Hossa, Smith opened enough eyes to have some attention paid his way this September. With the roster dynamics shifting while Sharp is out, he could get a great chance to skate a big number of minutes and win a spot in the NHL.
Stalberg might be the most intriguing player in the Blackhawks camp this fall.
He has the tools to be a top-six forward, but hasn't been able to put it all together consistently in the NHL. There aren't many skaters in the league with better top-end speed than Stalberg, and he has shown adequate hands at times in the last couple years.
The Hawks gave him a two-year deal this summer, clearly indicating that they think he can produce more than 14 goals. He could end up anywhere on the depth chart in Chicago, from opposite Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa in the top six to swapping nights as the 12/13 forward.
It's up to Stalberg where he ends up on the depth chart. With Sharp out, Quenneville will be afforded the opportunity to see how Stalberg fits with a number of other players.
Olesz was acquired in the shocking draft-day trade between the Panthers and Blackhawks that sent Brian Campbell to Florida. Injuries have kept him off the ice for almost 90 games in the last three years, but he came with a cap number over $3 million with three years left on his deal.
He has a big body, which could make him a valuable asset for the Hawks. But he's still coming back from knee surgery that ended his 2010-11 season prematurely. While Sharp is out, the Hawks will be able to experiment with Olesz all over the depth chart to see if/where he fits in.
If he struggles, and some of these other players step up, he might need to shop for an apartment in Rockford (home of the Hawks' AHL affiliate). If he steps up and skates well, he could be a key part of the 2011-12 Blackhawks.