Days get shorter, winds get colder, Starbucks starts serving Pumpkin Spice Lattes again.
In 30 cities across North America, the excitement builds as the NHL’s respective teams count down the days until their seasons begin, and rosters are finalized as training camps get underway.
No city is arguably as excited as Chicago, Illinois, however, as the Chicago Blackhawks look to enter the season as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, with one of the most stacked rosters in all of hockey.
It’s not all set in stone just yet, though. The Blackhawks have a few things to take care of on and off the ice as camp begins on September 22nd. Today, we count down the top five questions the Blackhawks have to answer when they head back to the United Center in 24 days.
#5: Is Nick Leddy Ready To Step Up?
The Blackhawks’ defense has been consistently solid for the past six years, but it’s the offense that has stole the show since Chicago’s rise to Stanley Cup contender status. Meanwhile, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson have always had a place on the blue-line, while the bottom-four of the rotation has been less steady. One player that the Blackhawks have been waiting on for a breakout year is 23-year old Nick Leddy, and despite consistently playing a second/third-pairing role, some feel it is time for the Minnesota native to stake a permanent claim in the Blackhawks’ top four. Leddy has showed flashes of a great offensive mind as part of the Blackhawks’ power-play unit, but as it stands, Johnny Oduya is the clear choice to stack up alongside Hjalmarsson on the second-pairing. Depending on how Question #1 is answered, the Blackhawks could enter camp with 5 top-four defensemen, which is a “good problem” to have for GM Stan Bowman. Leddy could be the future of the Blackhawks’ blue-line, and a more cost-effective option than the alternative in Oduya. Entering a contract year, this training camp really could be a make-or-break situation when looking at Leddy’s future with the club.
#4: Is It Time To Free Jeremy Morin?
Jeremy Morin should be used to being one of the Blackhawks’ biggest question marks by now, as the 23-year old enters his fourth season of professional hockey. In each of the three seasons past, Morin has played at both the AHL level with the Rockford IceHogs, and with the Blackhawks, but none were quite as puzzling as the 2013-14 year. Morin was called up and sent down a total of 12 times, playing 24 games with the ‘Hawks along with 47 with the ‘Hogs. At the AHL level, Morin was a point-per-game player, finishing second on Rockford in team scoring despite playing nearly 30 games less than his teammates. With the Blackhawks, his .46% points-per-game average was more than full-timers such as Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus, Marcus Kruger, and Ben Smith. Despite his relative success, Morin dressed for only 2 of the Blackhawks’ 20 playoff games, and many blamed head coach Joel Quenneville’s for his unwillingness to give Morin any ice time. The Blackhawks haven’t given up on Morin yet, as he signed a two-year contract extension earlier in the summer, and with a winger spot left to be filled heading into training camp, he is certainly the front-runner to play himself into a full-time role with the Blackhawks this fall. Ultimately, his fate rests in his performance at camp, and Quenneville’s feelings towards the teams’ future with the young, energetic forward.