Training-camp darling Dennis Gilbert plays in Blackhawks’ opener after all
It seemed like his preseason charge had fallen just short, but with Calvin de Haan held out Friday, Gilbert deservedly appeared in the Hawks-Flyers game.
PRAGUE — Defenseman Dennis Gilbert’s feel-good underdog story ended on a high note Friday.
Actually, it’s really only the beginning in many ways for Gilbert, 22, whom the Hawks are hoping can become a dependable shutdown option for years to come. And his actual performance was marred by a brutal early gaffe.
But those things aside, the fact remains that Gilbert played in the 2019-20 season opener — a development that, before training camp began a month ago, seemed completely implausible to everyone but him.
“I don’t know if I expected it, but I didn’t think it was out of the realm of possibility,” Gilbert said earlier this week. “All the coaching staff and all the guys have been super-welcoming here and super-helpful on and off the ice, so it’s been fun so far, and I’m just looking forward to keep going.”
Gilbert’s reliable defensive coverage and physical edge during the preseason earned him a spot on a remade defense.
But it seemed for a while that the payoff wouldn’t happen.
The former Notre Dame blue-liner was technically sent down to the AHL before rosters were finalized, and though he remained with the rest of the team in Europe, his spot in Friday’s season opener was dependent on Calvin de Haan’s injury status.
In the end, de Haan couldn’t go, and Gilbert got the recall.
“He forced his way in,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We feel very comfortable with him, that he can give us solid minutes. He adds a different dimension to our team. He’s physical, hard to play against, a big kid [at 6-2] who can skate. If he’s simple and clean with the puck, he’s gonna have a long career.”
Speaking of clean with the puck, Gilbert committed an inexcusable turnover in the first period. He first fumbled the puck, then tried a slow breakout pass that led to a break and goal in the other direction.
He did settle down as the night progressed and finished with the third-best shot-attempt differential on the team.
“Credit that he kept playing, and I thought he had some good shifts as the game went on,” Colliton said. “[He’s] got to manage the puck better, but certainly he wasn’t the only one.”
His stint with the Hawks — for now — might end at one game. If Connor Murphy or de Haan is healthy a week from now, Gilbert might be temporarily reassigned to Rockford.
Still, his camp surge proved he’s more of an NHL-ready player than some thought he’d ever be.
This and that
The Hawks were slaughtered by the Flyers in the faceoff dot, winning only 22 of 58 draws (38 percent). Jonathan Toews, who last season was the Hawks’ lone plus player in that category, had arguably his worst faceoff night in two years, going 8-for-22. David Kampf lost his first eight draws and finished 4-for-13.
† Colliton started the line of Kampf and Dominik Kubalik (with Brandon Saad), which delighted the Czech fans during pregame introductions. But the crowd of 17,463 still clearly favored the Flyers and national hero Jakub Voracek as the game went on.
† After giving Alex DeBrincat an extension Thursday, general manager Stan Bowman admitted his “next order of business” concerns Dylan Strome, whose entry-level contract also ends next summer. He wouldn’t disclose much else, though.
“Whether we do it now or in a month or in six months, I can’t say at this point,” Bowman said.