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Can Brandon Manning provide spark Blackhawks’ defense so desperately needs?

Brandon Manning’s task once he signed as a free agent in July was to pump life into the Blackhawks’ lackluster defense. That mission begins this week.

The Hawks failed to add a top-four blue-liner during free agency, but the hard-hitting, shot-blocking Manning, 28, believes he can make a difference.

He’s coming off his most productive season in the NHL with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 65 games with the Flyers. Manning’s seven goals would’ve tied him with Brent Seabrook for most among Hawks defensemen last season.

“I’m just excited and trying to build off last year,” said Manning, who focused on improving his skating and mobility this offseason after signing a two-year, $4.5 million deal.

Can Brandon Manning be the spark to the Hawks defense this season? | Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

Manning brings a physical style, something that drew the interest of general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville after the Hawks’ disappointing 2017-18 season.

“They want me to just be who I am, and that’s a physical, go-out-and-compete-every-night type of guy,” Manning said. “And I think if I can do that, I can help out the other guys and show them how hard I compete and that I want to be here to win and help the team.

“The biggest thing is probably the edge I play with because of my physical game. If I can bring some of that, then the rest of the guys can kind of feed off that.”

Lacking a physical style was one of the many issues that led to the demise of the Hawks’ blue line last season.

Another key issue is the uncertain future of goaltender Corey Crawford.

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The Hawks never managed to string more than two wins together after Crawford was put on injured reserve with a head injury Dec. 27. They also allowed 256 goals last season (162 after Crawford was sidelined), which were the most scored against the Hawks since 2006-07.

It also didn’t help that some of the Hawks’ key players didn’t live up their usual standards. Veteran defenseman Duncan Keith scored only two goals off 182 shots on goal in 82 games. Seabrook also struggled and didn’t score a goal during a 40-game stretch at the beginning of the season.

Most of the Hawks insisted late last season that they plan to leave 2017-18 in the past.

Manning says he’s impressed with how self-motivated the Hawks look — something he has witnessed during a few workouts with some of his new teammates before camp opens Friday.

“When you listen to the guys talk, you can tell they believe they can win every year,” he said.

“I think [with] the same core group and the superstars they have here, there’s a chance to win every year. That was obviously big.”