It’s almost the best time of year; hockey season. Before the puck drops on the 2014-15 edition of the NHL regular season, however, rosters have to be decided, as training camps get underway and preseason games are played. Holding one of the deepest prospect pools in the league, lots of players will get a look in the Chicago Blackhawks’ uniform over the next several days; here’s the five players you should be keeping your eye on as the Blackhawks march towards October 9th.
5. Mark McNeill
McNeill is no stranger to the Blackhawks’ pre-season, having dressed for Chicago in both 2011 and 2013. This year, however, he looks to make a lasting impression, after a solid first season with the ‘Hawks AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. McNeill adapted quickly to the professional game, and was an offensive leader for the ‘Hogs for the first half of the season, and if the same can be done with the Blackhawks at the NHL level, he could be in Chicago sooner than one would think.
4. Stephen Johns
No matter if he ends up in Rockford or Chicago this season, Stephen Johns will play his first season of professional hockey, after four outstanding years at the college level. Johns has been highly touted ever since being selected in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and this pre-season will be the first real measure of his abilities at the NHL level. Although Johns will undoubtedly be with the Blackhawks in the near future, the experience he could potentially gain by starting on their opening day roster could pay huge dividends 3, 4, or 5 years down the road. With a salary cap move looming, Johns’ pre-season could ultimately put him on the Blackhawks’ roster for the start of the season.
3. Jeremy Morin
For the past two years, Blackhawks’ fans have been wondering when they will get to see Jeremy Morin play full-time with the team. After a 2013-14 campaign that saw him get called up and sent down a total of 12 times, this year may be make-or-break for the 23-year old. In the pre-season, Morin will have to win over Joel Quenneville and his ‘bias’ against some of the younger Blackhawks, and earn some playing time in the bottom-six role left when Brandon Bollig was traded this summer. It sure seems like Morin has a good shot at the Blackhawks’ roster this year, but pre-season will have huge implications for all forwards involved.