Training camp has come to a conclusion and it's almost time for the regular season. This September was chock full of surprises. Here are five things we learned from the 2011 Chicago Blackhawks Training camp:
The Kid Can Play
In the shockers of all shockers, 18 year-old Brandon Saad is going to make the team and probably be in the lineup come Friday in Dallas. Yes, he was first-round material who slipped to the second round, but making an NHL team the same year as being drafted is pretty tough. It's usually saved for top 5 picks. The first thing that stands out is his size. The 6-1, 203-pounder has an NHL body even at 18. His skills are probably no better than other high draft picks, but his decision making and overall hockey smarts were on display throughout the preseason. When to pass, when to shoot, where to go with and without the puck are all little things that pay off big, if done right. It's doubtful he plays more than nine NHL games, which would require the Hawks to keep him for the season. Less than nine and he goes back to juniors. But then again, it was doubtful he would make the team out of camp and he did.
Kane in the Middle
Scoffed at out of hand when Joel Quenneville announced, after a preseason game in Detroit, that Patrick Kane would play some center when he returned from a wrist injury, its looking more and more like he might start the season in the middle. Kane held his own during three preseason games at that position, but as everyone knows judging anything, definitively, in the preseason is a mistake. So it's simple. See how it works for a while in October and make a change if it's not. The Stanley Cup won't be lost in the first couple weeks of the season. Patrick Sharp will be back to full speed after a few games and can easily move back to center and Kane to wing if need be. Bottom line: Even if it's not definitive, the preseason has to mean something, so based on the three games he played at center he might be able to do it. But only based on that and nothing in Kane's history on the ice.
Kane a Monster
A year ago at this time stories were being written about Marian Hossa's stellar training camp after playing in three consecutive Stanley Cup finals, and he carried it over to the start of the regular season. Whether it's at center or wing, Kane is looking about as good as Hossa did. From the moment he took the ice after missing time with his wrist injury he's had an extra jump to his step on the ice. His passing is in midseason form as is his stick-handling which wowed the United Center crowd with one breath-taking rush this preseason. Media members are always asked in training camp, "how did so and so look?" Most of the time the answer is "fine" because it can be hard to distinguish between veterans who are just getting themselves ready for the regular season. In Kane's case, it's an emphatic "great" because he stood out.
Anyone who was worried about the back end of the defense before training camp began can't be completely satisfied with what they saw. Steve Montador had some issues as did Sami Lepisto. If you're looking for negatives, Montador looks like a player who could be prone to big mistakes while Lepisto's shortcomings are more subtle, like being slightly beat to the corner or taking the wrong angle. None of the newcomers on defense showed a propensity for physical play, but the preseason doesn't always bring that out. John Scott might have a little more speed, but is it enough? And even Nick Leddy was just "ok" in camp. A lot is expected of all the newcomers (and returnees) and a wait-and-see approach wouldn't be the wrong one to take.
Preseason Means Little
Ok, it's not exactly something we just learned but this one is as true as it's ever been. Some prospects stood out like they should in training camp because they're taking it as serious as the regular season. The mindset of veterans and coaches is different. Most of the time it's "do what you have to get ready for the long grind." Nothing emphasized that more than Joel Quenneville's lineup in the preseason finale Sunday night in Washington. He chose not to use the game as a dress rehearsal, instead sitting several stars. So one thing we didn't learn -- for the most part -- in preseason is who will skate with who come Friday in Dallas. That's what the next three days will decide. The bottom line is don't fret the Hawks' 2-5 exhibition record. Its as meaningful as Jonathan Toews stat line in Saskatoon in mid-September. In other words, it means nothing.