5-on-5: Corey Crawford’s status is still the Blackhawks’ most pressing issue
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A lot of things need to go right for the Blackhawks to get back into playoff contention — let alone Stanley Cup contention — this season. Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad must have the bounce-back seasons their underlying analytics suggest; someone needs to step up and become Patrick Kane’s permanent left wing; Duncan Keith needs to regain the step he seemed to have lost; and the young defensemen need to take a big step forward.
But none of that matters if Corey Crawford isn’t healthy — and his old self.
So all eyes will be on Crawford next Friday at the Hawks fan convention, when the goaltender is expected to speak publicly for the first time since an ill-fated trip to a morning skate in Arizona on Feb. 12.
“I ran into him [Monday] and talked to him for a while,” general manager Stan Bowman said on Tuesday. “Things are looking good. He said he hasn’t done a whole lot of on-ice stuff yet, but a few of our guys were just starting to skate today, as well. I think they’ll get ramped up over the next six weeks and get more on-ice preparation. I know he’s been training off-ice. Hopefully, things are good.”
Bowman said the Hawks don’t heavily monitor players’ offseason workouts, not even Crawford, who missed the last 47 games of the season with a head injury. The team comes up with an offseason program for the players to follow, then leave them alone, for the most part.
“Corey’s been away for a bit,” Bowman said. “So when we do see him, it’s good to check in and see how he’s doing. I think he’s going to spend more of his time in the next few weeks here in Chicago, so that’ll be good.”
2. Marian Hossa’s remarkable NHL career surely deserves better than being an Arizona Coyote in name only. The three-time Stanley Cup champion and future Hall of Famer surely will be honored by the Hawks once his three-year Coyotes “career” ends — he deserves to have his No. 81 hanging in the rafters of the United Center. But the Hawks simply had to unload his contract to have the kind of roster flexibility they need to compete.
“Marian will go down as one of the greatest Blackhawks ever,” Bowman said. “It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we’d love to not have to do that. But [as a] practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move we made.”
3. Moving Vinnie Hinostroza in that same trade wasn’t on the same level as casting off Hossa, but it was still “tough,” according to Bowman, to let go a player who had come so far, and in whom the Hawks had invested so much time.
“I think he’s poised to have a breakout year next year,” Bowman said. “We took a chance on him in the later rounds, and he really probably brought more than we even expected.”
4. Count Chad Krys among those who believe Dylan Sikura will be an impact player in the NHL. Sikura only played in five games after finishing his senior season at Northeastern, posting three assists. But Krys, a Boston University defenseman and 2016 second-round pick, saw plenty of Sikura over the past couple of seasons.
“They smoked us a couple times this year,” Krys said with a laugh. “That top line there, [Adam] Gaudette, Sikura and [Nolan] Stevens, was very good, and he kind of got them clicking. He’s a really good facilitator and obviously a very heady player. Definitely one of the best players in college hockey this year. I can definitely see that translating to the NHL, for sure.”
5. Adam Boqvist was drafted by the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights last year, and was considering coming over from Sweden, but he said his general manager in Brynas vetoed the idea. But the Hawks signed Boqvist to an entry-level contract shortly after making him the No. 8 pick in the draft, and he’ll play for London this season.
That was one of the primary reasons the Hawks signed Boqvist so quickly — they wanted a bigger say in his development process.
“[Now I’ll] know how I can play on the smaller [North American] ice and read the play better, and hopefully I can be ready for the NHL quickly,” Boqvist said.
6. The Hossa trade was obviously a contract dump, but the Hawks did get one viable prospect in it, 6-3 center MacKenzie Entwistle. Bowman said the Hawks had their eye on him in the third round of last year’s draft before the Coyotes took him. The 19-year-old Entwistle had 13 goals and 25 assists in 49 games with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs last season.
Entwistle described himself as a two-way center who can play up and down the lineup.
“I was in Toronto doing my summer training, got off the ice, clicked the home button on my phone, saw a whole bunch of missed calls from the Arizona GM [John Chayka], a missed call from Chicago, and my agent,” Entwistle said. “I didn’t know what was happening. I called John Chayka back and he told me the news that I was traded to Chicago. I couldn’t be happier.”
7. One of the more intriguing players to watch in training camp and early in the season will be forward Victor Ejdsell, whom the Hawks acquired from Nashville in the Ryan Hartman trade. Ejdsell had one assist in six games with the Hawks last season after a whirlwind week in which he was traded, came over from Sweden to Rockford, then was called up to the NHL. But he had seven goals and five assists in 13 games during Rockford’s run to the AHL’s conference final.
The 6-5, 214-pounder can play center or wing, and might get the first crack at playing alongside Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane.
“There were times where it looked like it was his first experience in North America, but there were also times where we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did without him,” IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton said. “He’s very skilled, and he has a chance to become a player. Timeline? Who knows? Let’s see how he looks in the fall.”
8. Defenseman Ian Mitchell, a second-round pick in 2017, was among the more impressive players at prospect camp. The smooth skater flashed a filthy wrist shot, going top shelf a number of times while jumping into the rush. Mitchell — who was Blake Hillman’s defensive partner at Denver last season — will be back in school for his sophomore season. But he could sign with the Hawks as soon as the spring.
“I think we really complemented each other’s games,” Mitchell said of Hillman. “And hopefully we get a chance to play together with the Blackhawks some day.”
9. One training camp X-factor will be 23-year-old Dominik Kahun, a 5-9 center who spent the past four seasons in Germany’s top league, and turned heads with five points in seven games as Germany reached the gold-medal game at the Olympics. Kahun had 12 goals and 29 assists in 42 games with Munich last season.
“If people aren’t that familiar, he’s a really fun player to watch,” Bowman said. “He’s quick, offensive, has good skills, and is probably more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer. He’s one of those guys where the puck’s off his stick as quick as he gets it, and he’s moving it to the guy that’s open. So I think he’s going to fit in well with a lot of our forwards.”
10. Ray Emery’s death Sunday morning hit the Hawks hard, particularly two of his closest friends, Dave Bolland Daniel Carcillo. Jonathan Toews lived in the same building as the famously fiery Emery during his two seasons in Chicago, and they frequently carpooled to games, practices and the airport.
“He was a fun, laid-back, happy-go-lucky guy,” Toews said. “I know when he played in Canada, there were a lot of stories, and you didn’t really know what kind of guy he was when he came into our locker room, but everyone loved him. He’s one of those guys you want on your team. … It’s too soon for a great guy and a great teammate.”