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Chicago Blackhawks: Pair Of Blue-Liners Battle For Final Spot

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For the Chicago Blackhawks, over the past few seasons, it has become the norm to see much of the same roster year after year. GM Stan Bowman’s draft-and-develop strategy has allowed the team to retain many of their homegrown players, saving money, and keeping the team among the NHL’s elite.

This season, however, it’s a little different.

Instead of two or three forward spots, and perhaps one defensive spot up for grabs, both those numbers have nearly doubled. In fact, goaltending, the position that was the ‘Hawks biggest question mark just a few seasons ago, is the only one set in stone.

On the blue-line, ‘Hawks fans are sure to see the return of Conn Smythe trophy winner Duncan Keith, as well as partner in crime Brent Seabrook. In fact, with Seabrook signing a massive contract extension just days ago, they can expect to see him for the next nine seasons. Among the ‘locks’ are Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Daley, Trevor Van Reimsdyk, and David Rundblad, though some are not so certain that the latter is a ‘for-sure’ pick to return to the ‘Hawks roster. Michael Roszival signed a one-year contract with the team recently, and his surprising return will likely round out the Blackhawks’ defense core. However, he is out with injury, and it may require him to start the season on Long-Term Injured Reserve, opening up not only a roster spot, but some cap space as well.

With experience on his side, Kyle Cumiskey seemed to be the favourite in Blackhawks’ circles to earn the job next week. He was utilized to the best of his abilities during the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run last season, and the trust he earned with Coach Quenneville very well may have been the deal-breaker at this year’s training camp. However, he has yet to join the Blackhawks in their training camp activities, as he has been nursing a lower-body injury. The latest updates still peg Cumiskey for at least two or more weeks of recovery until he reaches 100% form. Cumiskey is only with the Blackhawks on a Pro Tryout Offer, and if he wants to suit up for the Blackhawks when the real show begins next week, he would need to sign a contract.

Suddenly, the door is wide open for a rookie to step in, and with the Blackhawks reassigning more players on Monday, that number has dwindled down to two: one, an unsigned draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers, and the other, a free-agent signing over two years ago.

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With only two hopefuls left in camp, and only one spot to fill, the competition between these two through the final week of the Blackhawks’ pre-season is going to be intense. Here are your pair of candidates:

Erik Gustafsson

Gustaffson is coming off his best year of professional hockey yet, notching 29 points in 55 games for Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League. Not to be confused with Erik Gustaffson, the former Philadelphia Flyer and now-KHL player, this Blackhawks’ prospect is playing on North American soil for the very first time. Though his inexperience with the smaller ice may be hampering his ability, he has made the transition look a lot smoother than some in the past, and is well on his way to at least, earning a big role with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. However, as long as he is at Blackhawks’ camp, one cannot count him out from making the team, as Joel Quenneville has been very high on his praise of Gustafsson since his arrival.

Viktor Svedberg

If the Blackhawks choose to go with Svedberg to start the season, they will be making hockey history. At six-foot-eight, Svedberg, along with Zdeno Chara, would be the tallest NHL player of all-time. Size certainly isn’t an issue for this young defenseman, who was signed by the Blackhawks over two years ago. Though he doesn’t have the offensive abilities of the other candidates, Svedberg uses his size to his advantage in front of his own net, clearing the way for his goaltender, giving them nothing to worry about when it comes to screens and re-directions. Svedberg’s 14 points and +14 rating were solid numbers for the Rockford IceHogs last year, in a season that saw him miss a good amount of time due to injury. The losses of Stephen Johns, Adam Clendening, and Ryan Stanton in the past have cleared the way for Svedberg to move up the ‘Hawks depth chart, and his journey will surely end with a spot in the NHL. If that comes sooner, rather than later, however, remains to be seen.

What do you think? Who should be the Blackhawks’ seven defenseman on opening night? Let us know in the comments below!

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