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Chicago Blackhawks: 3 Players Fighting For Roster Spots

By Colin Likas
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It’s an interesting time to be a player for the Chicago Blackhawks, or a player trying to crack the organization’s big-league roster for the quickly approaching 2015-16 season. A certain segment of men in the Indian Head are coming off their first, second or third Stanley Cup win, while others are new to the scene or have been in the minor-league system for varying lengths of time.

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Training camp for the Blackhawks opens Friday at the University of Notre Dame, and players will be approaching the event in plenty of different ways. While guys like Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and the like know their spots are secure and will use their time to condition and hopefully assist the youngsters, said youngsters will try to crack Joel Quenneville‘s roster. And it’s not as though that’s an impossible task, considering guys like Joakim Nordstrom and Brandon Saad earned spots (though not immediate playing time) with the big team out of past camps.

So, which guys on the roster fence are closest to earning a roster spot with the Blackhawks ahead of this season? We’ll take a look at three today. (Note: Jan Hejda, Daniel Paille and Lubomir Visnovsky, who are all with the team on a professional tryout contract, are obviously fighting for roster spots so they can earn regular contracts, so we won’t be discussing them. We also won’t discuss Ryan Haggerty since Skylar touched on him this morning.)

Garret Ross, LW

Last season (Rockford, playoffs included): 78 games, 23 goals, 23 assists, 102 penalty minutes

Why he’s on the fence: If there’s one position the Blackhawks are not deep at right now, it’s left wing. Artemi Panarin, Bryan Bickell, Viktor Tikhonov and Andrew Desjardins are the only legitimate options at this point, and Bickell could potentially be moved if someone wants his contract. So if Ross impresses in camp, he could make the left wing position a little deeper for Coach Q’s crew.

The 23-year-old has spent the last two seasons in Rockford and projects more as a Bickell-type player than a skill forward. According to Hockey’s Future, Ross is “a brawler with a decent skill set” whose “hard work and skills around the net project him as a versatile, complementary winger.” That’s not exactly Bickell, but it’s closer to Bickell than Panarin or Tikhonov. So, if Bickell falters, is injured or is moved, Ross could be a fine fit in that position. The same could possibly be said for Desjardins as well, though more so if an injury happens instead of him being moved.

Nov 9, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Jeremy Morin (11) being pursued by San Jose Sharks left wing Matt Nieto (83) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Morin, RW

Last season (Chicago, Columbus and Rockford): 46 games, 3 goals, 4 assists, 30 penalty minutes

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Why he’s on the fence: It’s still up for debate why Stan Bowman wanted Morin back on the roster after the forward pretty much demanded a trade out of Chicago last season. Morin got that trade, as he went to Columbus and did next to nothing for an injury-riddled team. So now’s he’s back with the Blackhawks, a team that lists about half its forwards at right wing, the position Morin plays.

Look, Morin might not have been happy in Chicago as his previous run came to a close, but you know he wants to play the game at the highest level. Can he do it well on a consistent basis? That remains to be seen, as he wasn’t on the ice for a consistent amount of time at any point in his first Blackhawks tenure. Does he deserve a harder look this time? Eh. There’s nothing to say yes to that, and players have to earn a harder look. But do you think he’ll want to show Q what he was missing out on before and that he can hack at as a third- or fourth-line wing and not a guy who’s just shuttled back and forth from the AHL when there’s an injury? Heck yes.

Morin could serve an Andrew Shaw kind of role if he dedicates himself to it and adopts a can-do attitude instead of a scorned one (easy to say from a distance). He’ll be battling with several guys looking to make the same sort of impact.

Sep 24, 2014; Uniondale, NY, USA; Carolina Hurricanes left wing

Brad Malone

(24) and New York Islanders defenseman Ville Pokka (52) battle for a loose puck along the boards during the first period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Hurricanes defeated the Islanders 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Ville Pokka, D

Last season (Rockford, playoffs included): 76 games, eight goals, 25 assists, 16 penalty minutes

Why he’s on the fence: It’s no secret the Blackhawks are in search of a seventh defenseman. It’s part of the reason Hejda was brought on board. Of course, the answer might be within the organization already in Pokka, who completed his first North American hockey season in 2015. While another year of seasoning in Rockford might be in order, the Blackhawks might wind up needing the 21-year-old at some point this season.

This could be a Nick Leddy situation, or maybe a Trevor van Riemsdyk situation, in which a young player who isn’t exactly NHL-ready gets thrown into the deep end, in a sense, to see if he’ll sink or swim. With guys like Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson around, Pokka wouldn’t completely sink. And he is an early-second-round pick from the 2012 draft, so he certainly has potential. But a strong showing in training camp would expedite his rise to the Blackhawks roster, which seems pretty likely at this point.

Some guys who just missed out on this list, but who easily could have been included, are Ryan Hartman, Mark McNeill, Kyle Baun and Viktor Svedberg. Have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments section.

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