CHICAGO -- It’s now Klas Dahlbeck's turn to audition for the Chicago Blackhawks' sixth defensemen role.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville just wasn’t sold on Adam Clendening in that spot. Clendening was a healthy scratch for the Blackhawks’ last three games before being reassigned to the AHL on Wednesday night.
Quenneville hasn’t found that perfect someone since Trevor van Riemsdyk suffered an injury on Nov. 16.
“We want him playing,” Quenneville said explaining the reassignment of Clendening on Thursday. “Adam hasn’t played here. We’ll get him playing bigger minutes and getting his game going and get a chance to see how Klas does and a chance to play as well. It’s a situation where we get to evaluate these guys as well, but certainly we don’t want him sitting around here. We want them playing.”
Michal Rozsival appears to have solidified himself as the fifth defenseman. He’s played in all seven games since van Riemsdyk’s injury and has received 15-plus minutes of ice time in five of those games.
The sixth defenseman spot hasn’t been as consistent. Quenneville has used David Rundblad and Clendening there in the last seven games. Clendening played in four games and averaged 13:10. He played just 8:20 in his last game on Nov. 26. Rundblad has played three games and has been limited to less than eight minutes in two games. He played 7:33 in Wednesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues.
Quenneville didn’t sound concerned about his sixth defenseman situation when asked about it on Thursday.
“That will work itself out,” Quenneville said. “I think we’ll see how that all plays out. Every game’s different. You go in there with you might plan on playing six. Games are a little tighter, deeper, you might go down to five. It’s tough to forecast that going into games or stretches of games. We’ll let their play dictate a lot of the time how it plays out.”
In a perfect scenario, Quenneville would obviously like to play six defensemen throughout a game. There were plenty of games last season where he played all six of his defensemen at least 16 minutes. Keith, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy and Rozsival all averaged 16-plus minutes a game last season. Sheldon Brookbank was also usually around 12-16 minutes when he was in the lineup as a defenseman last season.
Dahlbeck, 23, will now get an opportunity to earn a pairing spot. Like Clendening, this will be Dahlbeck’s first NHL game experience. The 6-foot-3 Dahlbeck practiced with the Blackhawks throughout the playoffs last season, but he has never played in an NHL game.
Quenneville was hopeful Dahlbeck’s defensive ability would fit in with the Blackhawks.
“We like the way he moves,” Quenneville said. “He’s a big guy, skates well. I think situational reads is a thing he’ll get better at with in time. I think I liked his camp. We feel he’s got a long reach. I think offensively it’s an area with the puck he can get better with. But I think he defends well. I know with the gap and situations and how we play our game, we’ll get a feel for how he handles it. Certainly think he’s capable of having the right assets to contribute and fit in.”
Dahlbeck was excited for that chance.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Dahlbeck said. “It’s unfortunate van Riemsdyk getting injured like that, but it’s an opening up for the other guys.”