Handicapping Hawks' youth

A long first week of training camp is over as the Chicago Blackhawks continue to prepare for defense of their Stanley Cup championship. They made two more cuts on Sunday to reduce their roster to 35 players.

Defenseman Shawn Lalonde and forward Chris DiDomenico were sent to Rockford where the IceHogs are set to begin their training camp.

The returning veterans are all in seemingly good shape and have no major injuries to report. Marian Hossa says his right knee gives him trouble after playing soccer but feels fine for hockey. He’s shown his usual burst in practice and had a great rush to score shorthanded against Detroit on Saturday night.

The bigger story in camp, as usual, involves prospects. Several major names remain with the Hawks as they enter the final week of camp. Igor Makarov, Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, and Kyle Beach have all received their share of press, and are still around, but will any stick with the big team for the start of the season?

It's doubtful any will but it's not out of the question. Handicapping their chances after one week, here is where they stand:

Beach, wing -- 4 percent: He’s just not ready. A full year in Rockford could do wonders for him. The maturity is happening, but it’s a slow go right now. There's still uncertainty about what kind of NHL player he will be. First line? Fourth? His play would not justify the cap hit the Hawks would have to endure if he made the team. More time is needed.

Leddy, D -- 7 percent: There is a lot to like at a young age, but several things work against him. Again, the cap hit hurts. Big time. So does the top four defensemen for the Hawks. He could learn from being in the same dressing room as Duncan Keith, but he needs playing time and important minutes. Will he get that paired with Nick Boynton, John Scott, or Jordan Hendry? And good luck cracking the special teams with the top four around. If the Hawks can make the money fit and they simply don’t see a lot going on with their 5-7 defensemen, then there is the opening but it’s a longshot. He certainly is a candidate to be called up later in the year, if needed, and the money fits.

Makarov, wing -- 15 percent: Makarov has had a good camp. He continues to show good hands and overall ability and instincts. He didn’t score on it, but a nice toe drag move Saturday night against Detroit was yet another example of what he can do. He might be ready but some seasoning in Rockford couldn’t hurt. Unlike the others, he’s making near minimum type money so he becomes even more attractive for that reason.

Morin, wing -- 20 percent: Probably the most dynamic prospect in camp and how good would the Dustin Byfuglien trade look if he made the team this season? His cap hit isn’t so bad -- it’s just under a million -- but he needs to play. No way can the Hawks stick him on the third or fourth line. It’s simple: He either plays second line left wing with, say, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa or he goes to the minors or back to juniors. Normally he would not be eligible to play in the AHL at age 19, but due to a technicality, he can.

The easy thing would be to let him grow into being a pro with another year at a lower level, but with his speed and skills, even at his young age, it might be too enticing to wait for. Would inexperience and the grind of the season catch up on him? Maybe. But 19 is the new 24. See Kane and Toews for evidence. He might not be at their level, but can you think of a better situation for a young prospect to break in? Yeah, there will be some pressure but when he sees what Hossa and Sharp can do with the puck, he might just ease into it all. Intriguing to say the least, but still way under 50 percent.

The Hawks aren’t giving any indications to which way they are leaning and the money -- even a few hundred thousand -- could make the difference. In fact, it probably will. Jack Skille and Ryan Potulny didn’t do anything to embarrass themselves Saturday, so that’s a notch in their favor even if there wasn’t a Zetterbeg or Datsyuk to be found.

The good news is, as general manager Stan Bowman has repeatedly said in the offseason, that the cupboard seems to be filling up again. But is it ready to be opened right now?

One more week will tell the story.