Welcome to another edition of Blackhawks Bytes, a series featuring quotes and comments from players, coaches, management, journalists and fans alike concerning everything Chicago Blackhawks. The purpose of this ongoing column is to capture a slice of the existing outlook, attitudes and culture surrounding the team throughout the 2021-22 season. Please join me as we have some fun with the everyday, albeit fascinating aspect of human nature; the power of words.
Training camp is in full swing. The Blackhawks are now partaking in exhibition games to work out the kinks before the season officially starts on Oct. 13. So, what is the Blackhawks’ outlook as they prepare for the 2021-22 season? Let’s hear from Marc-Andre Fleury, Dominik Kubalik, head coach Jeremy Colliton, Seth Jones and more.
The Blackhawks knew they were acquiring an incredible goalie in Fleury. But they may have under-estimated what kind of a teammate they were getting. The intangibles can be just as important as the tangibles sometimes, and Fleury has plenty of both.
Blackhawks’ forward Ryan Carpenter actually played with Fleury for one-and-a-half seasons when they were both members of the Vegas Golden Knights. Carpenter has nothing but good things to say about him.
He comes to play and compete, but he has a ton of fun at the rink too. It’s contagious when you have guys like that in your locker room…He’s one of the nicest guys in the locker room and everyone loves him, but then on the ice he’s a savage.(from ‘Normally-reserved Fleury bringing some lighthearted-fun to Blackhawks’, The Daily Herald – 9/25/21)
It definitely seems like Fleury will be another veteran leader for the Blackhawks, helping them win on the ice, and keeping things loose and fun off of it. From the man himself, “You got to keep it light. I feel like if we have fun, if we feel good and we’re relaxed that’s when you play your best hockey.”
The Blackhawks arguably had some trouble last season relaxing and keeping it light. Fleury should be able to help with this. Of course, winning cures a lot of things too. Fleury should be able to help on that front as well.
Colliton’s Defensive Plan
Coach Colliton recently gave us some insight on his plan for the defensive pairings this season.
I think on the right side, we got two big, strong, great-skating, physical defensemen (Seth Jones and Connor Murphy) who are going to help our D core and it’s just figuring out what’s going to be the best fit because those two are going to play a lot of minutes. Obviously, (Jake) McCabe, he’s very reliable. He’s going to play on the left side with one or the other, I don’t think we’re struck on anything yet, but we want him to get some chemistry and we’ll see how it goes in exhibition. We haven’t set the lineup for the exhibition games, but we want to give it a bit for them to get used to each other and then we’ll just reevaluate after a few games.(from ‘Ten thoughts on the Blackhawks after three days of training camp’, The AthleticCHI – 9/25/21)
So far, McCabe has been playing alongside Jones, while Riley Stillman has lined up with Murphy. Calvin de Haan and Wyatt Kalynuk have made up the third pairing.
But Caleb Jones has played well in camp, and could be making a case for himself in this mix. The experimentation and further placement of the Blackhawks’ defensive personnel will be something to watch in the remaining exhibition games.
Is Jones the Real Deal?
There’s been speculation left and right about whether the elder Jones will live up to his massive contract and truly be the No. 1 defenseman the Blackhawks expect him to be. It’s a lot of pressure for the 27-year-old. But he addressed this question with the right attitude.
There’s always pressure. I put pressure on myself to be the best I can be. But when it come to (feeling the weight of the contract), not really. I’ve just got to go out there and play my game, and hopefully, that can take care of itself. I still have room to grow in my game. Of course, I want to be better offensively this year. But at the same time, I’m not going to go force things all thine and get out of my comfort zone and away from what makes me a good player.(from ‘It just gives you motivation’: Seth Jones eager to shut his critics down and lift the Blackhawks up’, The AthleticCHI – 9/20/21)
Defenseman Roman Josi and Jones played together for the Nashville Predators for two and a half seasons at the beginning of Jones’ career. Now they will be division rivals. Josi had this to say about his former teammate.
He’s going to be great. Especially on that team, playing with guys like (Patrick) Kane, (Jonathan) Toews and (Alex) DeBrincat, he’s going to be really good. I played with him for (three) years and even back then when he was a lot younger, he was an unbelievable player and you could tell how good he’s going to be. It’s not good for us (in Nashville) that we’re playing him that much.
Well, the Blackhawks don’t have the greatest track record recently against the Predators, so they’re gonna need all the help they can get. Let’s hope Jones brings his A game especially against Nashville, and proves Josi right!
Chemistry for Kubalik and Toews
Let’s transition to the offensive side of things for our next topic. Blackhawks’ forward Kubalik had a breakout rookie season in 2019-20, recording 30 goals and 46 points.
Most of this production occurred after he was promoted to the top line alongside Toews. Which is why it makes all the sense in the world to put them back together to start this season. Kubalik agreed that the chemistry is definitely there.
Kubalik on reuniting with Toews:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) September 28, 2021
"Right away the first practice, the chemistry clicked back. It's nice when you play the puck somewhere you don't even know if there's going to be somebody, and he's there. You know where he's going to be and he probably knows where I am."
The Czech native lined up on the third line a lot last season, and didn’t play the kind of minutes one would expect from someone who’s such a threat on offense. Many argued he wasn’t utilized correctly in the name of balance, and because the lineup included so many young players. But this season there’s a lot more depth on this Blackhawks’ team. I foresee Kubalik being paired regularly with Toews, and the two of them doing some damage together.
Devoted de Haan
Finally, Calvin de Haan took the podium after a practice last week. You know, the defenseman that was supposed to get picked up by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft? Except he wasn’t. And he wasn’t traded anywhere either, despite rumors that shedding his $4.55 million cap hit would be beneficial for the Blackhawks.
Nope, he’s still in Chicago. Here’s his message to the fans.
De Haan is known to be a relatively quiet and even-keeled kind of guy. He tells it like it is, as evidenced by his simple, to the point statement. He’s also an extremely steady and consistent defenseman who tends to fly under the radar, for exactly that reason. His stay-at-home style of play may seem boring, but it’s effective. And it turns out de Haan is quite the warrior too. He confessed that he fractured his tibia last March and played through it for the rest of the season. Hockey players are crazy, I tell you! CRAZY!
De Haan is now slated to be an integral member of the Blackhawks’ new-look defensive group this season, likely as part of the top-four. His versatility should be a strength no matter where he lines up, and his toughness and quiet leadership should be applauded as well.
This writer is glad de Haan is still in Chicago!
That’s all for this edition of Blackhawks Bytes. I’ll be collecting more quotes and interesting tidbits as we head into the second half of the 2021-22 training camp and preseason games. Stay tuned; never a dull moment!
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Let’s put it this way; she’s probably reading and writing about hockey instead of cooking and cleaning. Shh, don’t tell her husband!
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.