Insider: Defense, Health and Backups
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As a very distant Hawks fan, I don't get to see a great deal of Hawk hockey. So who do you see as the top 6 d-men for next season and what do each of them bring to the mix? --Alex Dawson, Sheffield, England
What kind of a chance does James Wisniewski have at making the roster this year after he did well last year with 7 points in 19 games as a rookie? Thomas Whitaker, Plymouth, MI
Alex and Thomas, the Blackhawks have five defensemen returning from last season's squad: Adrian Aucoin (leadership, big shot), Brent Seabrook (poise, passing), Duncan Keith (speed, stamina), Jim Vandermeer (toughness) and Jassen Cullimore (size, veteran presence). The roster is likely to have seven defensemen on it opening night and I believe the two strongest candidates to fill those spots will be Lasse Kukkonen and Cam Barker.
Kukkonen is on a one- way contract so he has been brought over from Finland -- where he is consistently one of the top d-men in the league -- with the expectation of making the team. Barker was the 3rd overall pick in 2004 for a reason; he has tremendous vision and poise with the puck. Unfortunately, that means young players like Wisniewski, Dustin Byfuglien and Danny Richmond are likely on the outside looking in. But all three are just a Norfolk trip away if needed.
I was wondering about injury situations. Is any player nursing any nagging injuries currently, or is most of the team relatively healthy? -- Chris Madinsky, Sydney, NS
Good question, Chris. There are no players coming to training camp who are nursing injuries. That includes Aucoin, Nikolai Khabibulin, Tuomo Ruutu, and...
Is Patrick Lalime healthy for training camp. What will be Patrick's expected job? -- John Latham, Port Colborne, ON
What are the chances of Corey Crawford being on the bench as backup this year? -- Mark Beare, Edmonton, AB
John and Mark, Lalime is 100% recovered from his shoulder injury last season and will serve as Khabibulin's backup this year. He is on a one-way contract, so the only way you're likely to see Crawford or Sebastien Caron is if Khabibulin or Lalime gets injured. The Blackhawks have high hopes for Crawford, who needs at least one more full year in the American Hockey League. You want young goalies to play, and it doesn't benefit Crawford or the Hawks to have him sitting on the bench here in Chicago.
Note: A lot of people have been submitting questions about Ruutu, Eric Daze and J.P. Dumont. At this time, there is no new information to pass along that hasn't been shared in previous Insider editions. Thanks for your questions!