Though they won’t see the ice until Thursday at Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena, the Blackhawks will officially open their 2013-14 training camp Wednesday with physicals at the United Center. Eighteen members of the 2013 championship team remain, but there is still plenty to watch for before the Blackhawks raise their newest Stanley Cup banner on Oct. 1 vs. Washington.
Campus life: For the 2013 edition of training camp, the Blackhawks will travel two hours away to the University of Notre Dame. By spending five days together in road trip conditions, the Hawks will get an early opportunity for a little team bonding before the grind of the season begins.
Spots open up front: All seven defensemen return from last year’s championship squad, as does the main man between the pipes in Corey Crawford, but look for a few veteran Rockford IceHogs to compete for a handful of spots among the Blackhawks’ forward corps.
Ben Smith, who played one game in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin and last season's AHL scoring leader Brandon Pirri have all spent multiple seasons in the American Hockey League, and will be fighting for the chance to start the year with the big club. Also in the discussion are 2013 free agent signee Drew LeBlanc, the NCAA’s reigning Hobey Baker Award winner, as well as 2011 first-round picks Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, who might impress enough to get longer looks in camp.
Teuvo’s time: Finnish phenom Teuvo Teravainen, the 18th overall pick in 2012, will almost certainly be one of the most carefully watched rookies in camp. Though the 19-year-old winger has spent very little time on the North American ice surface, his raw skills and dynamic game have created a buzz already.
The new core: While names like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith have been name-checked in the Blackhawks “core” since early in their careers, re-signed players Bryan Bickell, Corey Crawford and Niklas Hjalmarsson—all of whom were given long-term extensions over the summer—are now de facto members of that prestigious group as well. How well they handle the weight of their new contracts and heightened expectations that come with them may be key factors in determining how far the Blackhawks go this season. The expectation is that the best is yet to come.
Minding the net: With Ray Emery’s departure to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks brought in veteran Nikolai Khabibulin for another tour of duty in Chicago, backing up entrenched starter Crawford. The depth chart behind the veteran is much more interesting: Finnish league MVP Antti Raanta, WHL standout Mac Carruth and 2010 draftee Kent Simpson all could get the starting nod for Rockford, and depending on their play, any one could be next in line for a call-up should an injury occur.
First-timers: While all would safely be considered long shots to make the roster, the camp will feature the first NHL appearances for 2013 first-round pick Ryan Hartman; 2012 picks Travis Brown, Dillon Fournier and Brandon Whitney; 2011 draftees Adam Clendening, Maxim Shalunov and Alex Broadhurst; and 2010 selection Joakim Nordstrom. Most will return to Rockford or their respective junior clubs after camp, but their performance against top-flight talent will be a good measuring stick for Blackhawks management to see what they have in these touted players.
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