As the NHL lockout continues to deprive fans of the ability to witness the highest level of professional hockey, several Blackhawks are honing their skills overseas for lesser-known teams in less visible leagues.
As one of the most notable Blackhawks and NHL players playing internationally, Kane has teamed with Boston Bruins young center Tyler Seguin to provide an impressive scoring duo for EHC Biel in the Swiss Elite League. In his first three games with his temporary team, Kane has registered two goals and five assists, putting him in a tie for eighth on the team, despite playing in far fewer games than most of the roster.
Seguin, the team’s leading scorer, has notched 23 points in 15 games and has already developed remarkable chemistry with his NHL colleague. The two offensively gifted forwards have taken advantage of the larger ice surface and continue to use the extra open space to exhibit their skills.
At 2:28 of the video below, one can see the Blackhawks forward elegantly dance his way around a pair of opposing defenders to find a wide-open Seguin in the slot, who was able to finish the play.
Kane, who was extremely hesitant to head overseas before the impending lockout, is hoping that his exodus from North America, along with many of the league’s other superstars, will accelerate negotiations and force owners to rethink the hard stance they’ve taken to this point.
Despite his original reluctance to risk injury by playing internationally, Kane acknowledges the need for him to continue getting meaningful playing time and participate in a competitive league.
“It’s something where I feel I have to play games,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “If this keeps going on, I will be [in Switzerland] playing. It’s kind of like a safety valve.”
After his troublesome offseason, Kane’s decision to join Biel in Switzerland should help him regain his focus and demonstrates a clear desire by the young forward to grow in maturity and accountability.
There probably isn’t a person on the planet who would do a better job of ensuring that Kane keeps his off-ice personality in check than his mother, who he brought along with him to Europe.
Kane waited until after the “Champs for Charity” game in Chicago had concluded before leaving, showing a continued devotion to his city and the community. The pickup game, featuring a number of names from 2010 Stanley Cup winning roster, as well as other stars from around the league, eventually raised $323,000 for the Ronald McDonald House of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.
Once the lockout finally ends, it will be exciting to see the kind of season that Kane is able to put together. He’s always had the talent, as the video above would indicate, and appears to be doing everything in his power to put his troublesome past behind him.
Stalberg returned home to Sweden to play for Vastra Frolünda HC of the Swedish Elite League and is averaging over a point per game early in the season. It’s extremely important for Stalberg, who possesses incredible speed and a hard shot but has been somewhat inconsistent in his time with the Blackhawks, to get as much playing time as possible.
Teaming with Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Stalberg has six goals and five assists in just eight games and owns the highest points per game average on the team. The Swedish wing, who put up 43 points (22 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games last season, is exactly the type of player who doesn’t need an extended break right now.
At 26 years old (almost 27), Stalberg is entering the prime years of his career and needs to find a level of consistency that will allow him to stick on one of the Blackhawks’ top two lines. With great size and skating ability he has the potential to be an impact player, but to date has found himself drowned in trade rumors due to his tendency to disappear.
Returning from the lockout at the top of his game and becoming a reliable contributor to the ‘Hawks should allow Stalberg to cement himself as an important member of the roster.
Frolik, like Stalberg, is another player with exceptional talent who just hasn’t seemed to be able to put it all together. Once a first-round pick by the Florida Panthers after two strong seasons in the QMJHL, Frolik’s scoring numbers have dropped each season he has been in the NHL.
As one of the first ‘Hawks to head overseas when news of the lockout broke, Frolik has 13 points in 14 games for his Comutov Pirati team in the Czech Extraliga, the top-tier league in the Czech Republic. He currently ranks as the second highest scoring player on the team, despite playing in five fewer games than the number one player, David Hruska, who only bests Frolik by two points.
Bickell seems to have found his niche playing for Znojmo Orli HC in the Austrian Hockey League as the only player on the roster with NHL experience.
During the last lockout, Znojmo gained the services of a number of excellent NHL players, including Patrik Elias, Martin Havlat, and Tomas Vokoun.
Through nine games, Bickell has 14 points on three goals and 11 assists for the fifth place Orli. It would appear as though Bickell has been attempting to utilize his prototypical power forward size, as news from around the league states he has been crashing the net hard and deflecting shots while screening the opposing team’s goalie.
Once he returns to the NHL, it will be important for Bickell to continue playing in the same fashion, as his size is his greatest asset and this may be his last chance to prove that he is an NHL caliber player.
When the team dealt Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals prior to last season, the hope was that Bickell would be a cheaper and suitable replacement. However, he has yet to demonstrate that he is willing to throw his weight around in the same way that Brouwer, who ranked ninth in the league in hits last year, did.
Oduya took a bit of a different approach to the lockout – after a vacation to Thailand, the 31-year-old decided it’d be fun to stay there a bit longer. He signed on with the Flying Farangs, a Thai team participating in the 2012 Land of Smiles Ice Hockey Tournament.
There isn’t much to report on how he did, but it’s entertaining to note that he surprised his coaches and teammates when he actually showed up for practice, as many believed his signing was a bit of a joke.
Many of the Blackhawks are excelling overseas and utilizing the talent they possess against weaker competition. How that translates to the NHL once the lockout finally ends will be a very important story for the ‘Hawks brass and fans to pay attention to.
Born in Springfield, Illinois and growing up in Washington state, Tim attended the University of Washington and graduated in 2011. After spending two years in the Seattle Thunderbirds’ (WHL) Media Relations department, Tim now covers the team for 710 ESPN Seattle, still remaining an avid Blackhawks fan. Follow him on Twitter @tpigulski for Thunderbirds and Blackhawks opinions and updates.