Blackhawks’ defensive logjam sends Nicolas Beaudin to AHL, boosts competition for others

“You know where you stand in the group, and you know if there are guys who are quality who aren’t playing,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Saturday. “It keeps you sharper.”

SHARE Blackhawks’ defensive logjam sends Nicolas Beaudin to AHL, boosts competition for others

Nicolas Beaudin was sent down to the AHL on Friday after 11 games with the Blackhawks.

AP Photos

Nicolas Beaudin exceeded expectations in his first lengthy NHL stint.

Beaudin, however, was assigned to the AHL on Friday, a temporary casualty of the Blackhawks’ ideal problem: too many decent defensemen.

Between veterans Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Calvin de Haan and Nikita Zadorov, youngsters Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, Adam Boqvist, Lucas Carlsson and Wyatt Kalynuk and experienced depth option Madison Bowey, the Hawks have 10 defensemen with strong cases to be in the NHL lineup.

Even with Carlsson injured, that logjam inevitably leaves out a few guys at any given time, and only Bowey is a relatively easy choice to scratch.

For this five-game homestand, the unfortunate victim seems to be Beaudin. He was part of a big shuffle Friday that saw neglected goaltender Collin Delia given an AHL conditioning stint (allowing him to avoid waivers), Kalynuk and Reese Johnson also sent down and Brad Morrison and Mikael Hakkarainen called up to the taxi squad.

But coach Jeremy Colliton believes temporarily handling a big role in the AHL could benefit Beaudin — as well as Kalynuk, who has yet to make his NHL debut but deserves a shot soon — almost as much as more NHL time would.

“We’re really happy with those guys, but we want them to continue their development,” Colliton said Saturday. “If they’re not playing with us and they can play . . . 23 to 24 [minutes in the AHL], that’s a great opportunity for us and for them to keep building, keep improving and growing in confidence.”

Colliton used a similarly positive tone when addressing Beaudin, who had five points in 11 NHL games despite a subpar 43.3% scoring-chance ratio.

“We’re happy with him, [and] we delivered that message to him,” Colliton said. “There are no negatives. We’re excited about the progression he has made. These games in Rockford, however many it ends up being, he has to treat as an opportunity.”

Hawks management has harped on how the overcrowded defensive corps, and the resulting intense competition, should push everyone to improve.

Earlier this season, that approach wasn’t as cutthroat because of the absences of Murphy (hip) and Boqvist (COVID-19), plus Colliton’s frequent decision to dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards.

The competitive intensity is increasing, though. Colliton said Saturday that “the right thing for the team now is to go 12 [forwards] and six [defensemen],” eliminating that extra spot.

And Beaudin’s demotion serves as an eye-opening example to those lucky enough to still hold spots.

“It pushes everyone, even if you’re not thinking about it,” de Haan said. “Whoever is in the lineup is going to do their best to . . . put the team first, and that’s what we’ve really been preaching this season. Guys are buying in and playing to the wants and needs of the coaching staff.”

None of the four veterans has been affected to the extent of a healthy scratch, but that immunity won’t last forever.

Zadorov, in particular, has been frustratingly inconsistent. He and de Haan might hear their names in trade rumors when the April 12 deadline draws closer, given that the Hawks almost certainly can’t protect both in this summer’s Seattle expansion draft.

But for now, Colliton hopes the disconcerting sound of Beaudin, Mitchell and Boqvist barking in pursuit of their roles will prove sufficiently motivational.

“You know where you stand in the group, and you know if there are guys who are quality who aren’t playing,” Colliton said. “It keeps you sharper because you know you have to prepare every day.

“When there’s not as much competition, human nature can be to take it for granted and to get a bit complacent. . . . But [when there’s] competition, knowing you have to fight for your ice and your role, that’s a really good thing for the team.”

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