Return of Hossa lifts Hawks

The return of “Hoss” to the Chicago Blackhawks training camp Wednesday gave the team a lift as the dog days of camp have arrived.

Marian Hossa donned his familiar No. 81 and went through drills like he’s done for 13 previous seasons but this was unlike any of his other years reporting to camp.

Juxtaposing the death of friends in a Russian plane crash with the birth of his first child couldn’t be easy, but Hossa did his best to keep an even keel in the face of such emotions. And all parties agreed, the routine of hockey should do Hossa some good.

As for when he’ll play, Joel Quenneville said he and Patrick Kane would most likely suit up for the final three exhibition games. Last fall, Hossa never left Chicago in the preseason, playing only at home, and he had the hottest start in the NHL. Three games for him and Kane should be enough to have them both ready for the start of the regular season.

Who Hossa ultimately lines up with is anyone’s guess. Dave Bolland has been skating nearly exclusively with Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell, just as he did to finish last postseason but without Patrick Sharp available right now, the options at center are limited.

The good news for the Hawks is Sharp is getting closer to returning from an appendectomy which occurred on the eve of training camp.

“I talked to him [Wednesday],” Quenneville said. “He said he feels way better today, and he’s excited about where he’s at and wanted to do some working out. So it’s good.”

Sent packing: Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, 2011 first-round draft picks by the Hawks, were sent back to their junior clubs one day after McNeill had his most impressive showing as a Hawk. Quenneville raved about his game Tuesday in Saskatoon, but that didn’t stop him from being shipped out.

“We want them playing,” Quenneville said. “They’re 18-year-olds. They have a long time. The competition is big and strong here. It’s a great first step for these kids. They get to see what the pros are like.”

It’s a reminder that unless their last name is Toews, Kane or Crosby, making an NHL team after just being drafted is a rare feat. In fact, Toews went back to college after being drafted but did make the Hawks his first year he came to training camp. The No. 18 overall pick -- on a very talented team -- has the deck stacked against him, even though he showed promise in camp and against the Oilers.

Quenneville raved about the talent the organization is stockpiling, especially at forward.

“It’s the best collection of shooters or skill that I’ve seen,” he said. “The cupboard is starting to be replenished.”

No panic yet: The offseason concern, and possibly the current one, is the turnover the Hawks experienced on defense. Remember, Brian Campbell was simply overpaid, not a bad player, so replacing him wasn’t going to be easy. Nick Leddy looked a bit overmatched in his preseason debut against the Oilers on Tuesday. John Scott is a work in progress while the jury is still out on Sami Lepisto and Steve Montador.

As has been well documented, the Hawks have put a lot of stock into Montador, and he needs to produce. If you’re looking for a rough and tough defenseman, he’s undersized for that role but that doesn’t mean he can’t be gritty.

He got beat on the winning goal Tuesday against the Oilers as Jordan Eberle went right past him so those moments need to be few and far between. The Hawks believe he has more offense in his game than he’s known for and with Niklas Hjalmarsson coming off a 10-point season, someone has to pick up the slack for Campbell.

It’s way too early to panic but the Hawks' depth and talent on defense is something to watch, and that’s assuming Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook return to form. Scott and Leddy will get another game to prove themselves Thursday in Pittsburgh.