Blackhawks right wing Alex DeBrincat fed center Jonathan Toews for a goal in overtime of the team’s scrimmage Saturday. “Chelsea Dagger” blared through the speakers at the United Center, and nearly 15,000 fans cheered.
But Toews didn’t really celebrate. Instead, he skated off the ice, fist-bumping a few teammates along the way.
After the game, Toews brushed off the moment.
“It’s not really about scoring,” he said. “I mean, you want to create chances. You want to be able to start making plays at high speed.”
At 30, Toews isn’t the same player he was when he first joined the NHL more than a decade ago. He isn’t even the same player from five seasons ago.
But Toews believes he can be.
Toews is a fierce competitor. If left wing Chris Kunitz, who has been Toews’ linemate the first two days of training camp, had one word to describe the Hawks’ captain, it would be “intense.”
“He’s always competing to be the first guy in line no matter what drill it is,” Kunitz said. “He expects to go out there and show the guys and lead the right way.”
Toews’ competitiveness is what drives him to push forward, especially after three consecutive down seasons.
Said coach Joel Quenneville: “He’s a hard-working type guy. Jonny is one of those players who finds a way.”
What has become problematic for the Hawks is that Toews, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t been able to keep up in a league that’s getting faster and younger.
But Toews doesn’t want anyone feeling bad for him.
After posting a career-low 20 goals and 52 points last season, Toews didn’t take time to dwell on the disappointment of missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade. He saw an opportunity to get better and was eager to return to training.
“It’s just always identifying little ways you can get better [and] little weaknesses in your game,” Toews said. “[It’s] also building on the things you already do well but you still have to improve upon because the game is getting better and better. It’s a fun challenge.”
Toews worked on trying to figure out a way he could play with speed and strength. The longer break gave him more time to train. It also allowed him to get back on the ice in early July to work on speed drills and his puck-handling skills.
“I want to play and stay healthy for 82 games and be a consistent contributor and have one of the best seasons I’ve had in a long time,” said Toews, who suffered a back injury during the 2016-17 season and missed the final eight games last season with an upper-body injury.
Quenneville thinks it’s possible for Toews to return to his mid-20s form. But he also acknowledged that Toews means so much more to the Hawks than point production.
“The best way to measure his performance is what he means to the team and his importance to all of our runs is, whether he scored goals or not, you knew he was contributing to our team game,” Quenneville said.
And if Toews continues to be the teammate the Hawks need in the locker room, Quenneville believes the results will follow in time.
“Jonny will find a way to get numbers where they look like they’re Jonny numbers,” Quenneville said.