The Chicago Blackhawks have been working hard at the Fifth Third Arena for a week now. As the days are ticking off the calendar and they are moving closer to playing games that matter, the roster still has some serious questions, especially between the pipes. One youngster is starting to look every bit like a high first-round draft pick, while a role player is playing for another contract.
Goaltending Situation Still Fluid
We are one week into training camp as the Blackhawks prepare for their qualifying series against the Edmonton Oilers and we have yet to goaltender Corey Crawford on the ice. He has been deemed “unfit to play” and there has been no update on his status.
However, head coach Jeremy Colliton did not close the door on a possibility of Crawford returning to the practice ice this week. He told reporters on Friday that he has not ruled Crawford out going forward.
According to a report from Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Sports Chicago, there is a chance Crawford could be back sometime this week.
Having said that, there would still be several hurdles for Crawford to overcome before he is actually ready for game action. Every practice is crucial, especially for goaltenders, who usually need extra time to get both their conditioning and timing right, and it’s unclear how much he skated during Phase 2 of voluntary workouts.
The Blackhawks have 12 days before the series with the Oilers begins on Aug. 1. That may not be enough time to get Crawford ready to go even if he does join the team.
Colliton has been evenly rotating his four goaltenders in Crawford’s absence; Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Matt Tompkins.
Subban is the likely favorite to start Game 1 of the series if Crawford doesn’t play. This would be a good chance to see what Subban can do in a game situation. He was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 24, in the trade for Robin Lehner, and made just once appearance for just 70 seconds since coming over.
What’s Up, Dach?
One player who has been turning heads since the team returned to ice is Kirby Dach. The first-year pro spent the downtime working out in his home gym and getting stronger. The work has shown on the ice as he has been stronger and faster than what we saw back in March.
“(You) expect it almost, hoping that he would come in and look like he took another step just by being older and some months of training,” Colliton said of Dach last week. “Even if they weren’t the perfect conditions, he was able to put some work in and get rested up. For him, it’s a long grind when you’re 18, 19 years old and going through that first NHL season. He’s been very noticeable with his skating and confidence on the puck, even more so than (the regular season) and we’re just excited to see him get back into game action.”
This playoff run, no matter how long or short it ends up being, will be huge for Dach. This will give him a chance to perform against some top talent in high-pressure situations and take another step in his development.
High Hopes for Caggiula
This upcoming series with the Oilers is huge for Blackhawks forward Drake Caggiula. Not only would he like to get revenge on his former team, but he wants to show that he is worth another contract with his current team.
“This is obviously a huge opportunity [for me], especially going into free agency… I want to prove my worth, I want to prove that I’m a type of player that can excel in these types of games,” via Zoom on Saturday, per Brandon Cain. “I think my style of play definitely does play [to] playoff hockey.”
Caggiula, 26, will be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of the season. He is hoping that he will be back in a Blackhawks sweater whenever the 2020-21 season begins. He is the exact type of player the need. He fills out two roles they need; a gritty player who gets to the dirty areas of the ice that comes with a small price tag.
The biggest concern for the Blackhawks, or any team that ends up signing him, is his health He has missed 40 games due to concussions since arriving in Chicago in December of 2018, including 27 this season.
The Blackhawks will leave for their hub city of Edmonton this Sunday, July 26. They will play an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, July 29, at 5:30 pm CDT, before opening their series against the Oilers.