The Chicago Blackhawks have been back in action all week as this unprecedented mid-July training camp gets underway. No rest for the weary; practices have been long and hard. After all, there’s only limited time to prepare for the qualifying round against the Edmonton Oilers starting Aug. 1. While the team enjoyed a much-needed day off yesterday, there’s no shortage of news and updates.
Blackhawks’ Game Times Announced
Let’s start with some scheduling notes. We already knew the dates the Blackhawks would match up against the Oilers, but the specific start times were announced earlier this week. The team will further participate in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, July 29 at 5:30 p.m. CT.
Ah, a practice game against the hated rival Blues seems so appropriate! Hopefully a heated contest versus a long-time division foe, and the defending Stanley Cup champions no less, will be just what the doctor ordered to get the Blackhawks revved up.
But if you ask me, Blackhawks’ fans got the shaft when it comes to the qualifying round time slots. Now I know we’re all going to be pretty excited for Game 1, but people have things to do on a Saturday afternoon. It certainly would be much more timely to sit down for a game at 7 p.m. like we’re all used to. And then two 9:30 p.m. matchups on Monday and Wednesday night?! Come on; most of us are back to work by now!
It would be interesting to know who actually tunes in on Wednesday night for Game 3. Well, I guess it all depends on how the Blackhawks do in the first two contests. Because let’s face it; I don’t think any of us will be complaining about game times as long as there is a competing Blackhawks’ team for Game 4.
Kubalik for Calder
Perhaps the biggest news to date is Dominik Kubalik being named a finalist for the Calder Trophy. At 24 years old, he isn’t your typical rookie. He was drafted by the LA Kings in 2013, and spent many years playing in Europe before signing with the Blackhawks in May of 2019. But that certainly doesn’t diminish his accomplishments in his first season in the NHL. Here are a few of them.
Dominik Kubalik— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) July 15, 2020
-led all rookies with 30 goals.
-led rookie forwards with 46 points.
-led all rookies with 38 even-strength points.
-led all rookies with 26 even-strength goals.
-led all rookies with 157 shots on goal. https://t.co/PD444bvKtR
Kubalik has quickly become a fan favorite, not just because he scores a lot of goals, but for his humble and unassuming attitude. According to Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times, the young man got a little choked up during this recent interview about his nomination.
It’s an honor. I just didn’t believe it. Coming from Europe, you obviously have some goals, but you don’t think about being a finalist. … Kind of hard to talk about it.
The Czech winger is included with Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche for this honor. Both are defensemen who have made some pretty special accomplishments of their own, on both ends of the ice. And they’re 20 and 21 years old, respectively. Because of this, they are considered frontrunners for the eventual trophy. Regardless, this is a well-deserved distinction for Kubalik.
Blackhawk Absentees and the Implications
It’s well known by now that goaltender Corey Crawford has been mysteriously deemed “unfit to play” since the first day of training camp. Another recent absence includes defenseman Calvin de Haan, who didn’t show on the second day of camp due to a family emergency.
Let’s hope both Crawford and de Haan will eventually return and are available for the series against the Oilers. But in the meantime, it’s a “next man up” mentality. So, who is the next man up?
If Crawford can’t go, head coach Jeremy Colliton has made it very clear it’s going to be an equal opportunity for the starting job.
First, you have Malcolm Subban. In 66 NHL games played, he has a .899 save percentage. Yikes! But perhaps he just hasn’t lived up to his potential yet. He’s also been practicing with the Blackhawks since the beginning of Phase 2. The netminder has put a lot of reps under his belt, which could be very important for consistency and timing.
Then there is Collin Delia. He didn’t begin the season with the Rockford IceHogs all that great, but pulled it together and actually ended the season with the best record of the three goaltenders and a respectable .912 SV%.
Kevin Lankinen was Delia’s biggest competition, finishing the season with a .909 SV%. He’s also that netminder from Finland who took the 2019 World Championships by storm, leading them to a gold medal. But Lankinen is coming off shoulder surgery, so that could be a factor.
Finally, there is Matt Tomkins, who split time between the IceHogs and Indy Fuel of the ECHL the last two seasons. He is quite the longshot compared to the other three.
Can any of these goaltenders replace Crawford and give the Blackhawks a fighting chance? Well, don’t count them out just yet.
The Blackhawks did without de Haan for half of the season. It could be argued they didn’t do that well. But then again, they didn’t do so hot with him in the fold either.
So we have Brent Seabrook back and fighting for an opportunity to play. Seabrook is a three-time Stanley Cup winner with incredible leadership on his side. But is he one of the best six defensemen on the Blackhawks’ current roster?
Hard to say. I guess the next two weeks of training camp will help decide. In the meantime, there is youngster Adam Boqvist who has made big strides this season and will be looking to add to that. And then there’s Nicolas Beaudin and Lucas Carlsson. Both have been practicing with the top group so far in training camp. They are definitely two blueliners to keep an eye on as camp progresses.
Three New Signings
The Blackhawks announced three new player signings on Thursday.
The #Blackhawks have announced three new signings:— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) July 16, 2020
Ian Mitchell, D: Three years, $925K cap hit
Wyatt Kalynuk, D: Two years, $925K cap hit
Pius Suter, C/LW: One year, $925K cap hit
All players are ineligible to play in the postseason. All deals start next season.
The organization has had their sights on signing top prospect Ian Mitchell for a while now, and it’s good to see both parties finally come together. Mitchell is a 21-year-old defenseman who just finished his junior year at the University of Denver. He projects to immediately step in at the NHL level.
Another college signing is that of Wyatt Kalynuk from the University of Wisconsin. This 23-year old defenseman served as captain of the Badgers. His former coach, Tony Granato, thinks he will eventually be a perfect fit for the Blackhawks.
I see him as one of the players that Toews and Kane and the skill guys are going to say, ‘I want to be on the ice with him,’ because of the way he reads the game and he’s able to support the play from a defenseman’s standpoint. I think it’s a great fit.
Finally, the Blackhawks added 24-year-old forward Pius Suter. Suter was the Swiss hockey league’s highest producer in both goal and points this past season. The Blackhawks have been very successful with European signings, so hopes are high for this latest addition. (source: ‘Blackhawks sign Ian Mitchell, 2 free agents to contracts starting next season’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 7/16/20)
The Blackhawks hit the ice again today and this weekend as they continue to prepare for their departure to Edmonton on July 26. Keep it here at The Hockey Writers for all your latest news and updates.