Game preparations for opening night began on Tuesday as the Chicago Blackhawks got back to practice after a day off to finalize the roster.
There was no bigger surprise than seeing 18-year-old Brandon Saad lined up with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp on the Hawks top line. He’ll get a fair shot to stay more than nine games, which would trigger his contract for a full year keeping him in the NHL rather than going back to juniors.
It’s a big spot for him, and the Hawks, but remember it can be considered a short-term idea that could change within a game or when Viktor Stalberg returns from his injury.
Placing Stalberg on IR as well as Philippe Paradis will get the Hawks down to the maximum number of players allowed on a roster by Wednesday afternoon. General manager Stan Bowman said Tuesday the Hawks will employ 23 players on the team until further notice.
Dave Bolland should be back at practice this week after missing several days, including Tuesday. Based on that expectation as well as Tuesday’s practice, the rest of the forward lines for Friday’s opening game in Dallas should look like the following (Dan Carcillo is suspended for the first two games due to an incident in last year’s playoffs): Andrew Brunette/Patrick Kane/Marian Hossa; Bryan Bickell/Dave Bolland/Michael Frolik; Rostislav Olesz/Jamal Mayers/Ben Smith.
The top four defensemen look set but the bottom end of the defense is anyone’s guess at this point. Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy will be paired together as will Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. On Tuesday, Quenneville had Steve Montador and John Scott together while Sean O’Donnell and Sami Lepisto were in the same group.
So who starts along with the top four?
Quenneville was secretive about his plans only saying it would “materialize.” Common sense would have Montador on the ice since he was a big free-agent signing, so does that mean Scott is the other starter on Friday?
When asked Tuesday if indeed he was their sixth defenseman, Scott deadpanned, “I’m just happy I made the team. I was worried.”
• Ben Smith was a bit sheepish in talking about his concussion suffered last week when Brendan Smith of the Red Wings nailed him with a blow to the head. Smith quietly admitted he blacked out and feels lucky he returned to practice so quickly. He has not been cleared for contact but is hopeful to play Friday.
• Stan Bowman said the Hawks considered taking Brandon Saad with their second pick in the first round in June’s entry draft but felt “fortunate” he was still available in the next round.
• Joel Quenneville had an extended chalk-board session with all his defensemen and both goalies Tuesday. Niklas Hjalmarsson said afterwards it was mainly for the new players to learn all the “specifics” as well as communication with goalie Corey Crawford.