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Blackhawks enter jam-packed training camp with many questions to answer

From Jonathan Toews’ status to roster-spot battles to vaccinations, the Hawks have a lot to figure out — starting with their first practice Thursday.

Jonathan Toews is expected to be at Blackhawks training camp, but how game-ready will he be?
Kamil Krzaczynski/AP file photo

The Blackhawks’ eventful offseason will give way Thursday to what likely will be an equally interesting training camp.

A crowded roster of 63 players — up significantly from the 41 who attended camp last year and the 55 who were invited in 2019 — will take the ice at Fifth Third Arena for the first on-ice sessions.

Among them will be only six players — the rapidly dwindling crew of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Connor Murphy and Collin Delia — who have been on the Hawks more than two years.

The list of offseason additions joining the team for the first time — Marc-Andre Fleury, Seth and Caleb Jones, Jake McCabe, Tyler Johnson and Jujhar Khaira — alone equals that group in size and will exceed it if recently signed first-rounders Lukas Reichel and Nolan Allan are included.

With so much turnover comes more excitement, higher expectations and, of course, greater scrutiny. Indeed, the remade Hawks haven’t had this much talent in years — nor have they had so many questions.

Even sticking strictly to hockey-related happenings, the list is long. Who will be the new alternate captain? How will Kane’s undisclosed nagging injury — left over from late last season — affect him? Will any of the three guys coming off season-ending injuries — Kirby Dach (wrist), Alex Nylander (knee)and McCabe (knee) — be affected?

How much will Jones and McCabe improve the defense? How will the new goalie tandem of Fleury and Kevin Lankinen operate? What will happen to seemingly cast-aside backups Malcolm Subban and Delia?

Can coach Jeremy Colliton lead a contender, not only a rebuilder? Can Colliton revive Strome after last season’s disaster, and where will he put him? What will general manager Stan Bowman do with Brett Connolly’s overpriced contract and Andrew Shaw’s injured reserve-bound contract?

Who among the arguably 18 viable forwards and nine viable defensemen will win NHL jobs? Can top prospects Reichel and Henrik Borgstrom force their way into the mix immediately? Will “sophomores” Philipp Kurashev, Ian Mitchell and Wyatt Kalynuk keep their spots?

Toews’ status produces enough questions to require its own section. Will the captain be a full participant in camp? Will he be ready for the regular-season opener? And if it’s yes to both, will he immediately look like the familiar top-six center or need a lighter workload, at least at first?

Bowman offered little clarity on those Toews queries in a Zoom meeting with season-ticket holders Tuesday.

“You want to make sure . . . he’s feeling more like himself, and that certainly seems to be the case,” Bowman said. “But he went through a lot, and he missed a lot of time. He’s been training very hard, hoping to be ready for the season. Let’s just see how it plays out. None of us knows — Jonny doesn’t even know — how he’s going to feel three weeks from now.

“If he’s just like he was three years ago, that’s awesome. If he’s not at that level, if he’s at a different level, then that’s OK, too. The best thing would be to try to not have expectations.”

Off the ice, as well, more questions continue to hang over the franchise. Are any Hawks among the estimated 10-15 NHL players not yet vaccinated? If so, how will the team handle the inability of the player(s) to travel into Canada?

And when will the results of the investigation into allegations of a 2010 sexual-assault cover-up be released? Will Bowman, frequently named in the allegations, keep his job? What other institutional changes will the Hawks implement? What will come of the two pending lawsuits?

Training camp, hopefully, will provide a decent number of answers. But the Hawks will need to sort things out quickly: The season opener Oct. 13 in Colorado is less than three weeks away.