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Blackhawks’ Jeremy Colliton hopes to use time before playoffs wisely, improving systems and scouting Oilers

Coach Jeremy Colliton said the team will start to focus more on their eventual playoff opponent once the series draws closer.

Jeremy Colliton said he wants to let the Blackhawks play on ‘instinct’ against the Oilers.
AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

The Blackhawks — along with the 23 other teams bound for the modified Stanley Cup playoffs this summer — find themselves in an unprecedented scouting situation.

They know months ahead of time who their first postseason opponent will be.

The Hawks will face the Oilers. And with still roughly two months left on the calendar before the planned early-August series, coach Jeremy Colliton theoretically has enough time to learn not just the Oilers’ overall tendencies, but also the most minute details of their roster.

How does Connor McDavid’s index finger rotate when he releases a wrist shot? Colliton and the Hawks’ coaching staff have more than enough time to find out, if they want to.

But they don’t.

“The coaches, we’re going to absorb every bit of information that we can,” Colliton said Thursday. “But then we have to filter it, and we only want to give the players the information they need, so that they can play on instinct.”

Colliton said his “focus has been our own players and their development” for now, using things he and the staff learned from rewatching regular-season games during quarantine.

Right now, they aren’t allowed by NHL rules to join the small Patrick Kane-led contingent of Hawks working out at Fifth Third Arena. Once training camp begins July 10 and coaches are allowed in the building, however, Colliton will still spend much of the practice time focusing on internal improvement.

That focus is clearly valuable and worthwhile. But it’s also going to be virtually impossible for the Hawks to enter the playoffs more cohesively than they left off in March, given the length of the pandemic hiatus.

“Teams probably don’t have their systems and defensive structure completely dialed in,” Kane said Thursday. “Even though you’ll have some time in training camp to try and do that, you can never really simulate a true game situation.

“You always see that in the beginning of the season, where there’s a lot of scoring to start the season. It might be a similar situation where you come back and it’s a high-scoring series.”

That’s not to say Colliton hasn’t paid any attention to the Oilers.

He was more than prepared to give an in-depth breakdown of Edmonton’s threatening cast of top-six forwards.

That group is highlighted by league-leading scorers and MVP candidates Leon Draisaitl and McDavid, but it really found its groove from late December on when rookie Kailer Yamamoto — a 2017 first-round pick — surged into the NHL. Yamamoto had 26 points in 27 games before the shutdown, helping the Oilers post a 16-7-4 record in those games.

“Yamamoto’s development as the season went on was a big plus for them,” Colliton said. “It gave them that [ability] where they could split up Draisaitl and McDavid. Together with [Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins, the Draisaitl and Yamamoto line had an excellent second half. And McDavid being healthy with the time off, it’s going to be a challenge for us. Likely they’ll play apart, and we’ll probably have to check them by committee.”

So Colliton hasn’t completely ignored the Oilers, and he won’t be doing so over the next two months, either.

But he plans to condense the long period of scouting to a manageable drip of insights.

“Obviously, we’re going to want to be as prepared as possible for the challenges that they’ll bring,” he said. “But we also need to stay true to our own identity and play on our toes and be aggressive.”