CHICAGO -- Justin Holl felt strange when he took the ice as a defenseman for the first scrimmage of the Chicago Blackhawks Prospect Camp this week.
Holl was drafted as a defenseman by the Blackhawks in the second round of the 2010 draft and he's played the position for a majority of his career, but he switched to forward this past season at the University of Minnesota per the request of his coach. When Holl returned to his ordinary position for the first scrimmage of the Blackhawks' camp on Wednesday, it had been nearly a year since he had played in a game as a defenseman.
After finishing his second scrimmage of the camp on Thursday, Holl felt he had knocked off the rust and was quickly feeling comfortable again at his old position.
"The first period of (Wednesday's) game I felt a little out of sorts I guess just because I hadn't played a former game at defense with forechecking, aggressive hitting and stuff like that,” Holl said on Thursday. "I felt the transition was pretty quick. Each period I felt better.”
As a forward, Holl scored three goals and had four assists in 35 games for the Golden Gophers during his junior season. He thought he had added pieces to his game by playing forward last season.
"I think I really improved playing a forward with my puck-handling skills, puck handling under pressure in terms of corner play,” said Holl, who is participating in his fourth Blackhawks camp. "I'm pretty much doing the same thing in my defensive zone as a defenseman as forwards are in the offensive zone. It helps protecting the puck. My hands are going a little better. I think I definitely improved by playing forward. It's not a negative thing as well.”
Holl's future is still as a defenseman, though, and he'll back to it when he returns to Minnesota for his senior season.
"It was tough,” Holl said of the switch last season. "We had nine defensemen starting off, so they kind of approached me, 'Hey, we want you to play forward.' I hadn't played forward since youth hockey pee-wees maybe, so that was obviously an adjustment. I'm okay with doing that for the greater good of the team, I suppose. But at this point, I feel like it's time to focus on my career as well and moving forward play defense.”
Bouncing back: Goaltender Matt O'Connor missed the final month of his freshman season at Boston University this past year because it was discovered he had a collapsed lung.
O'Connor was cleared in the spring to begin playing again and has shown throughout the Blackhawks Prospect Camp he's back to his old self. He had a shutout during 1 ½ periods of play during a scrimmage on Thursday.
"It was kind of scary because we didn't know what it was,” said O'Connor of last season. "We just thought I had chest congestion. My lung was kind of practically collapsed at one point. Once we figured what it was, it was kind of a relief.
"I put that past me and I'm really excited about the opportunity. (The Blackhawks) got a chance to see me a couple times in the fall, so that was great. They do a great job here at camp. I'm just trying to soak it all in and live in the moment here."
O'Connor has been pleased with his play, too.
"There's so many great players out here, just quicker releases, players find rebounds a lot of better, so it's nice to be able to shut them down and show them I have some potential,” O'Connor said. "It's been a great week so far, just trying to finish it off here strong.”
O'Connor was 8-8-2 with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage during his freshman season at Boston.
Team B beats Team A: Team B defeated Team A 3-2 in a scrimmage on Thursday. Team B received goals from Jake Chelios, Tim O'Brien and Matt Lorito. Team A's goals were scored by Travis Brown and Robin Press. Team B goaltender Jackson Whistle allowed zero goals in 1 ½ periods.