Blackhawks prospects had the last two weeks to impress coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman and make a case for an opening-night roster spot. Some surprising players — forward Luke Johnson and 19-year-old defenseman Henri Jokiharju — rose to the occasion; others fell from grace.
Less than a week away from the season opener Oct. 4 in Ottawa, Quenneville said the Hawks are down to “one forward now and a discussion.”
And this might be one of the most difficult cuts of the preseason.
With Patrick Kane scratched from the preseason game Thursday against the Senators, Quenneville put forward Dylan Sikura on the top power-play unit and the second line with left wing Nick Schmaltz and center Artem Anisimov. It was Sikura’s chance to show off his explosiveness and stickhandling skills.
But after two periods and just under eight minutes of ice time, Quenneville had seen enough.
Quenneville promoted forward John Hayden to the second line in place of Sikura, who was demoted to the fourth line and removed from the power play.
“The reason I was up there is because of how I played,” Hayden said after the Hawks’ 2-1 loss. “I want to play the same game regardless of the situation, whether it’s preseason, regular season or playoffs.
“I just do what I can. Lots of things are out of my control, out of all our control, so just play as hard as you can and try to help the team out however you can.”
Sikura, who played in the Hawks’ last five games in 2017-18 after finishing his senior season at Northeastern, was viewed as a potential roster lock at the beginning of camp. But in the last few preseason games, Sikura hasn’t stood out much, and he has been eclipsed by Hayden, Johnson and center David Kampf.
Quenneville has specifically cited Johnson and Kampf.
“Johnson has had an excellent camp,” Quenneville said. “He’s been really consistent. Kampf has been really good, as well. Those two guys really added something with the consistency of their game, the pace of their game. Both can play wing, both can play center, both can take draws, both can kill penalties and both look quick.
“You can talk about every guy, but those guys have earned the chance to start here or be here.”
With the way Quenneville has talked about some of the other forwards, Sikura could be the odd man out when the Hawks finalize their roster in the coming days.
But on the bright side, playing in Rockford might do Sikura, 23, some good and help him adjust to the speed and rigors of professional hockey. After a rough start last season, the Hawks sent forward Vinnie Hinostroza, who was 23 at the time, to Rockford. Hinostroza played 23 games, had 22 points and returned to the Hawks revitalized.
Asked if Sikura could benefit from starting the season in Rockford, Quenneville said: “We’ll see. It’s something we’ll talk about. We don’t have many moves left.”
NOTE: Along with removing a forward from the roster, the Hawks need to cut one more goaltender.
With Corey Crawford still recovering from a concussion, Cam Ward likely will start for the Hawks, but it’s unclear whether Collin Delia or Anton Forsberg is third on the organizational depth chart.
Quenneville previously said that sometimes the business side of the league plays a part in final roster decisions.
“Sometimes waivers is part of it, money sometimes, as well,” Quenneville said. “We like making the hockey decision as the final one, but there are always a little bit of variables from a lot of different places.”
Delia has had an impressive camp, but the Hawks have to determine if his potential is worth the risk of losing Forsberg, who would have to clear waivers if he’s demoted to Rockford. With that in mind, it’s expected that Forsberg likely will be Ward’s backup, and Delia will be reassigned to Rockford.
Last season, Forsberg played 35 games in place of Crawford with a 2.97 goals-against average.