Kyle Baun didn’t spend the last five months going down Internet rabbit holes, counting forwards and dollars, tracking trades and signings, trying to piece together the Blackhawks’ 2015-16 roster and if and where he fit on it.
He didn’t need to. Everyone else was.
“You see the moves, and my buddies are all texting me like, ‘Oh, this guy went here, you’re in,’ ” Baun said. “So you do hear about it and it’s interesting to see. To some extent, it’s important to know which guys you’re competing with and which guys, maybe not so much. So I definitely do pay a little bit of attention, but I’m not on the Internet every day reading 100 articles trying to figure out exactly where I am. At the end of the day, it comes down to my play and what I bring to the table.”
Ask Joel Quenneville about Baun, and you’ll learn that he brings plenty to the table. In a three-game stint with the Hawks following his junior season at Colgate, Baun didn’t look the least bit out of place. He was big and strong, fast and physical. He didn’t record a point, but he won over the notoriously hard-to-impress Quenneville, who raved about him like few rookies before him.
But because he signed so late, Baun was ineligible for the postseason. And in the months since his flash in the pan, the Hawks have been drastically revamped. Patrick Sharp is in Dallas. Brandon Saad is in Columbus. Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom are in Carolina. Antoine Vermette is in Arizona. Brad Richards is in Detroit.
Baun knew it was all coming. It’s half the reason he came to Chicago in the first place, after posting 14 goals and 15 assists in 38 games at Colgate. After all, there were many other teams that were interested, with easier lineups to crack.
“One of the ways they kind of wooed me here was they kind of hinted that they were going to be in cap trouble, and there was going to be opportunity next year,” Baun said. “It definitely came true, what they were saying.”
Thing is, the Hawks also added forwards. Lots of them. Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano from Columbus. Artemi Panarin and Viktor Tikhonov from Russia. Ryan Garbutt from Dallas. Suddenly, those cap-tracking websites didn’t look so promising. But Baun tried to keep a level head, both while Quenneville was extolling his virtues, and while Stan Bowman was loading up on people trying to take his spot.
“It’s natural to want to think [I was a lock], but that also would be being a little naive,” Baun said. “It’s a very tough league to crack. For me, it’s just [about doing] the best I can. Work hard. Try and show well in front of the brass. … I thought I showed that I could keep up at this level. I can make plays and bring a physical edge, which I think the Blackhawks need some more of. It was a great experience, and I think it prepared me well for this next step.”
While the roster seems pretty full of one-way contracts at forward, Quenneville insisted there are jobs for the taking. And he hasn’t forgotten what Baun did in his brief audition in April. A gritty, net-crashing goal in the first period of Tuesday’s preseason opener was a helpful reminder.
“He’s certainly a guy that we’ve been watching closely,” Quenneville said. “There’s opportunity there, and his play is going to dictate where he starts. I thought he made a real good impression on us last year. This year, we’ll see.”