For the first month and a half, the Blackhawks had a healthy group of forwards.
That has changed with Drake Caggiula and Dylan Strome sidelined with concussions. The Hawks’ replenished depth, a much-mentioned subject by coach Jeremy Colliton and general manager Stan Bowman throughout the offseason, finally will be tested.
“The guys who go in have to bring energy and give us positive shifts,” Colliton said after practice Thursday. “[Matthew] Highmore came in, and he didn’t get a ton of ice, but the ice he got he did well with. So there’s no reason why Anton [Wedin] can’t do the same thing when he gets in.”
Highmore’s call-up Monday proved prudent and effective Tuesday, when Strome took the morning skate but reported concussion-like symptoms in the afternoon and became a late scratch.
Highmore made his first NHL appearance since March 2018 and played so well on the fourth line with Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith that he briefly led the league in Corsi percentage (72.7 percent, with eight shots for and three against).
“It had definitely been awhile, but I did feel comfortable, especially after the first couple of shifts when I settled in,” Highmore, 23, said Thursday. “My linemates were great. They were very informative with a lot of talk on the ice, so that made my job a lot easier.”
Wedin joined the Rockford-to-Chicago pipeline Wednesday and could potentially make his NHL debut in the home-and-home series against the Avalanche, though Colliton implied the call-up was more precautionary, and he wasn’t sure if Wedin, 26, would actually crack the lineup.
Despite his productivity in the AHL (11 points in 17 games), Wedin, signed as a European free agent this summer, probably didn’t cross the Atlantic to play minor-league hockey, so the news was well-received.
“Obviously, you want to get a chance to play here in the NHL,” Wedin said. “Just happy to be here, and I’ll do my best if I get the chance.”
Wedin impressed in the preseason thanks to his versatility, showing he could play center and wing and also make an impact on the penalty kill, but he needed some time to adjust to the smaller North American rinks.
“Strong skater, strong on the puck, he’s got just enough skill, he gets his nose dirty and he’s a versatile player,” Colliton said. “We can plug him in in a lot of different spots.”
There are several other depth forwards in Rockford who could see time with the Hawks, including familiar names Dylan Sikura and Jacob Nilsson, plus promising rookie grinder Brandon Hagel.
But the preferred outcome obviously would be to get Caggiula and Strome back as quickly as possible.
Colliton said he had no update on Strome, whose absence has promoted Kirby Dach onto Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat’s high-flying line.
Caggiula, however, has skated on his own for four consecutive days and said he’s close to rejoining team practices.
He has been out since accidentally blocking a friendly-fire slap shot Nov. 10 against the Maple Leafs, although (like Strome) his symptoms didn’t emerge until two days later in Vegas. But he’ll be eligible to return from long-term injured reserve next Thursday against the Bruins.
“If it was any other injury, I’d probably be out there playing, but with something like this, you just want to be as safe as you can,” Caggiula said. “You’re going to need [your brain] once your hockey career is done.”