Typically during NHL training camps, rosters don’t tend to get larger. Teams slowly cut them down to get to the 23-player limit required before opening night, which is now less than a week away.
Well, the Chicago Blackhawks are doing things differently, as they’ve done so often under Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville. Defenseman Ville Pokka and forward Brandon Mashinter are both back with the team after being excused from the training camp roster not long ago. These moves push the roster up to 19 forwards and 11 defensemen, along with three goaltenders.
Things are likely to change again after tonight’s fifth preseason game, a tilt in St. Louis at 7 p.m. I’ll touch on tonight’s lineup in a later post, but both Pokka and Mashinter are in the lineup for tonight.
Pokka was part of the Nick Leddy trade prior to the 2014-15 season and spent most of the campaign in Rockford. In 76 games with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, Pokka recorded eight goals and 25 assists, his first full season on North American ice. While he seems to be the Blackhawks’ top prospect on the blue line after many recent departures, the Blackhawks seemed uncertain about having him start the 2015-16 season on the big club, which was only heightened by the professional tryout contracts offered to veteran defensemen Jan Hejda and Lubomir Visnovsky.
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But both of those two are gone, and Pokka is now back with the team. Viktor Svedberg and Erik Gustafsson are two other young guys also hanging around training camp on the blue line for Chicago. With Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor Daley locked in to four of the spots, that leaves a whole mess of young and older defensemen looking at three other spots (two on ice, one in the press box). Does Pokka’s recall mean he has the inside track to a sixth or seventh D spot? That remains to be seen.
Mashinter is a Q Special, a gritty player who also provides some scoring punch. He’s been with Rockford the last two seasons after being traded to Chicago in 2013 for Kyle Beach, a similar type of player who flamed out with the Blackhawks.
A left wing, Mashinter netted 20 goals to go with 18 assists in 77 games with the IceHogs last season, also tallying 61 penalty minutes. With the Blackhawks relatively shallow at left wing, especially compared to the other two forward positions, Mashinter could conceivably squeeze his way into a roster spot, especially with Q’s penchant for having bruisers around. But with the forward corps more set in stone than the defensive pairings, Mashinter is probably just getting a longer audition before heading back to Rockford once more.
Do you think these two moves do anything to change the Blackhawks’ opening night roster? Let us know in the comments section.