Time to empty the mailbox, just in time for the regular season:
Q: I was very surprised to hear Brandon Pirri won’t be on the opening day roster. It seemed like he was constantly around the puck making heads up plays throughout the preseason. With the lack of depth at the center position, do you think he will get called up and contribute at some point? -- Pat, Elmhurst, Ill.
A: I definitely think he’ll be up here at some point. The numbers just didn’t work in his favor right now but it’s a long season, and he’s a center which puts him on high alert at all times. He’s shown nice progression as a player since entering the Hawks system. Now it's just a matter of fitting in at the NHL level. Trust me, scoring as he did in the preseason doesn’t go unnoticed. However, the Hawks have proven in the past once the season starts all training camp highlights are thrown out the window. Think of Igor Makarov a year ago. He never saw the light of the day again after being sent down and pouting while underperforming. The point is, Pirri has to keep it going or whoever is playing well will get the recall.
Q: Having watched every game last year, I have a good idea of the type of player Hammer [Niklas Hjalmarsson] is. He played completely different after that hit he delivered against Buffalo that got him suspended. He is so much more effective when he plays physical, and he can! He’s strong and positions his body well, but he won’t. What gives? -- David, Ridgefield, Conn.
A: That Buffalo game was so early in the season, it's hard to know if that hit was the cause of his play or other things that preceded it. He was pretty honest about his new contract adding pressure and without Brian Campbell next to him to start the season he simply seemed overwhelmed and played timid. He knew it, too. It’s why he became such a good shot blocker. It was the only sure way of contributing night in and night out. So I’m not so sure his season is any different if he doesn’t get suspended but that certainly added to it. I assume we’ll see a bounce back year but can’t guarantee it.
Q: I'm pumped for the season to finally start! With the unexpected news that Brandon Saad is going to make the team out of camp, where does Q pencil him in? He's looked great in the preseason, but it's a whole other level being a top-6 forward night in and night out in the NHL. Does he have the defensive wherewithal to play on the third line against the opposition's top line? Does he start on the fourth line, and risk stunting his development by not getting enough minutes? -- Aaron, Winfield, Ill.
A: It's a great question and as I answer it here on Monday evening I’m just not sure. By Tuesday or Wednesday we’ll know more. He’s been skating on the top line with Jonathan Toews most of the preseason but I can’t imagine that continues this weekend. It would be a shocker but it might just happen. He’s definitely not a fourth-line player, and as you say I can’t see them sticking him with Dave Bolland asking him to check the Stars’ top guns. The second line seems set with Patrick Kane in the middle so maybe he does get a few games with Toews and then goes back to juniors. And of course he can always be moved in-game if it’s not working. Will be fun to watch an 18-year-old show what he can do.
Q: The surprise this year is obviously Saad making the team, especially considering where he was drafted. For those of us that don't know much about him, what do you think we can expect and what are other scouts/analysts saying about his potential ceiling? Thanks for the awesome reporting Jesse. -- Michael, Lockport, Ill.
A: I’ve only learned a lot about him since the draft but people have been high on him for quite a while. I heard his name being on the Hawks list before the draft but as a first-round pick. After the Hawks chose Mark McNeil and Philip Danault before him I figured they had turned the page. In all the blogs I’ve written about him I talk about his size. It's near-perfect for an 18-year-old winger, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds. I don’t know if his instincts were properly scouted or relayed to teams because I haven’t seen a bad decision yet. Ceiling seems pretty high knowing he’s still growing and learning. If his work ethic matches those abilities he could have a very good career.
Q: Why does Coach Q keep splitting up Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook? It is maddening having to watch Keith and Nick Leddy play. Why doesn't he just stick with what is a proven, lock down defensive pairing. -- Michael, Chicago
A: It's preseason. He knows what Seabrook and Keith can do together. This is the time to see what others can do in case he needs to change things up. He might start the season with them together or maybe not but there are certainly reasons behind it. In fact he might think they are a little thin behind Keith and Seabrook so he wants them broken up and this was the time to develop some chemistry. Whatever the decisions are they aren’t random.
Q: How good can this team really be? I have a bad feeling for some reason being so thin at center. -- Dan. DeKalb, Ill.
A: I’d worry more about the back end of the defense. You can convince yourself there is enough at center when you consider Sharp is around plus Ben Smith and even Michael Frolik. Though the bigger problem isn’t the defense those guys play at center but it's the face-offs they take. No one cares about face-offs until they lead to goals against. After Jonathan Toews it's pretty thin in that area. So 4-6 on defense and face-offs are my concern.
Q: Why is it better for Kane to play center rather than Sharp? Don't all the same reasons for Sharp to stay on the wing apply to Kane? -- Andrew, Ottawa, Ill.
A: On the surface it's a good question and one of the first things I thought of but maybe this is about maxing out their abilities. Center is traditionally a playmaking position. Kane is a playmaker. Sharp is a sniper. Snipers play wing. So basically, on paper, their games might be better suited this way IF Kane can handle it. I have my doubts like everyone else. Why take one of the top 5 right wingers in the game and move him? But maybe what makes him great at wing can make him great at center. In other words, he’s so skilled it won’t matter. We’ll see.
Q: Montador has looked pretty bad this preseason so far. Please tell me he will get better! If he doesn't how do you see things playing out? -- Chris, Lockport, Ill.
A: I’m sort of with you on this but he has every right to prove us wrong. I just think he’s undersized and shaky back there, at least in preseason. The undersized part won't change so he needs to be sound in other areas. I really see him as a No. 5 defenseman making a really good living. They do have eight guys back there so if he doesn’t play well they’ll go to someone else but he’ll get a long leash. However, he didn’t play at the end of the Buffalo Sabres playoff series with Philadelphia by coach’s decision so recent history isn’t on his side.
Q: Who would your six defensemen be for the opening night? -- Gerard
A: I guess I would go the easy route and go with Keith/Seabrook, Hjalmarsson/Leddy, Montador/Lepisto though I could see O’Donnell getting the call instead of Lepisto. I don’t know if those pairings would work long term but that’s what I would try to start.
Q: Jesse, fantastic job all year, especially this preseason. With Pirri and Kruger being sent down, can you give us your four line predictions? I think this will help clarify things for most fans. -- MexicoHawk, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico
A: It's a great question and by the time many of you read this we might have some answers from practice but let’s give it a try assuming Saad is here, Sharp and Ben Smith are available, Stalberg is on IR and of course Carcillo is suspended:
I have a feeling that’s how they will start but it could all change by the second period. Olesz could move all the way up and Kane might be out at center. Will be interesting to watch.