The Chicago Blackhawks and their double handful list of invitees will be heading 90 miles east to South Bend, Indiana today.
Today the Hawks will get themselves nestled in the campus dorms at the University of Notre Dame. Today is fitness and physical exams. These 5 days start the bonding period for many of the new Hawks-to-be, and rekindles that fire for the present Hawks who have spent the past 90 odd days glistening themselves with back pats, adulation from adoring fans, as well as for some it was a time for marriage ceremonies and well earned pay raises.
The Hawks will spend the next 5 days at Notre Dame before heading back to Chicago. It is imperative for the invitees to put their best foot forward especial for the 4 leading candidates (Smith, J.Hayes, Pirri, Morin). The Hawks will be looking, not only at skill, but desire and maturity. There usually is at least ONE surprise person outside of the list aforementioned to take that giant leap. Who will that be? Will that person be Drew LeBlanc with his skill, maturity and on ice intelligence? Maybe it will be Teuvo Teravainen. He will certainly have many eyes on him. Maybe Mark McNeill or Phillip Danault will make the decision more difficult for the Hawks brass. Maybe it will be Garret Ross, or Joakim Nordstrom. Maybe it will be last-chancers like Kyle Beach or Dylan Olsen to show that the Hawks didn't waste a draft pick on them. Maybe recent draft picks like Ryan Hartman will surprise the Hawks. How about experienced veterans like Brad Winchester. Does he overtake Brandon Bollig for that 23rd roster spot? Do the Hawks get amazed by either Adam Clendening or Ryan Stanton? So much so that they decide to go with an 8th defenseman? Time will tell.
All that being said, the Hawks are in an extremely good situation by having an overload of talent to fill 4-5 roster positions.
What I thought the Hawks would do is trade or release Sheldon Brookbank. That hasn't occurred. But, I do believe he is hanging on to that 23rd roster spot by a thread. Stanton, Clendening, Kostka, Peckham and even Olsen could easily fill Brookbank's roster spot. Brookbank played sparingly and when he did play, he was rarely noticeable. If he was noticeable, it was usually because he looked out of position, not strong enough against the boards, or he simply looked out of place. He was a strong enough player to play in the NHL, but not at the Hawks high level. Other teams in a salary crunch might not take a chance on him, so he is one of the 3 Hawks that "don't fit",...that will probably make the roster.
The 3 ODD BALLS on the team are : Bollig, Khabibulin and Brookbank. Not one of them is a decisive enough player to make the team. Khabibulin is the only one that is a strong enough player to be on the team. His age and lack of team chemistry are my only concerns. Will Khabi mesh with Crow knowing that he is there merely as a back-up goaltender this time around with the Hawks? We certainly hope so.
I believe that the only 4 people that could POSSIBLY crack the roster that are outside of the top 4 invitees are: LeBlanc, Teravainen, McNeill and Danault. Teravainen will have eyes on him much like Brandon Saad did two yeas ago. McNeill and Danault were given a challenge by Stan Bowman to make this roster. That was certainly laying down the gauntlet for those two young studs. LeBlanc wasn't given any ultimatum's, but he will most certainly be watched.
So,......welcome back to hockey Hawks fans. The 2013-14 season training camp officially starts tomorrow and the season is right around the corner. LET'S GO HAWKS!