When the NHL’s opening night rolls around, sometimes the Chicago Blackhawks have a strange choice on the roster
Under coach Joel Quenneville, the Chicago Blackhawks’ roster is constantly changing. And I’m not just talking about the line and defensive combinations on the ice, which seem to change game by game anymore. I’m also talking about the players who make up the roster itself and how much turnover there can be in that way.
Last season, the Blackhawks shuttled guys to and from Rockford at a dizzying speed. Even before the 2015-16 season, it wasn’t a surprise to see Q and Stan Bowman make changes during the regular season, whether it was to give guys a wakeup call or to keep players fresh.
Of course, that’s led to some … interesting decisions on who gets a roster spot on this NHL team. Sometimes, there are guys who clearly aren’t ready for the big show, or they’re just blocking someone who has more to offer. That last point specifically has been a hallmark of the Q Era (unfortunately).
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So, with all of that in mind, let’s look at the oddest single addition to each of the Blackhawks’ opening-night rosters while Quenneville has been in charge. I won’t be including the 2008-09 season, as Q was not with the team at training camp and for the first regular-season game, so any odd picks on opening night would’ve been made by former coach Denis Savard.
2009: LW Radek Smolenak
He was acquired by the Blackhawks on Sept. 25 from Tampa Bay, with the season set to open just a week later. The 22-year-old native of the Czech Republic was a big body (6-foot-2, 209 lbs.) who racked up penalty minutes, so maybe he was the true precursor to all the other heavies Q has brought in over time.
Unlike some of the other heavies, however, Smolenak didn’t last long with the Blackhawks. He was scratched for both of the Blackhawks’ season-opening games against Florida in Helsinki, Finland, before suiting up in Game 3 of the season against Detroit.
He skated less than five minutes, got in a fight and was never heard from again. Probably for the best, really. Although, Smolenak has apparently recreated his game overseas, as he’s now a bit more of a points provider in KHL and Swedish League action (16 goals and 18 assists last KHL season with just 14 penalty minutes).
2010: LW John Scott
I probably should’ve just put a question mark in front of Scott’s name for his position, as he was used all over the place by the time he left Chicago in 2012. There were a lot of interesting names on this opening-night roster after the first salary cap purge (Fernando Pisani, Jack Skille, Jake Dowell), but Scott tops them all.
I don’t need to tell you too much about Scott, who has gone from a noted goon to a feel-good NHL story over the last year. He actually didn’t have the least amount of ice time in this game — his 6:58 topped Viktor Stalberg‘s 6:10 — but he did commit one of Chicago’s three penalties. Atta boy, Johnny.
2011: LW Rostislav Olesz
At this point, the Blackhawks were in a transition/mini rebuild around the core players. Guys like Michael Frolik and Olesz were brought in cheaply to try and support that group. Frolik turned out to be a great addition. Olesz was just a strange one.
The Blackhawks already had their “required” one giant guy in Scott again this season (though he was scratched for the opener), and Olesz’s 6-1, 214-pound frame didn’t really fit the Blackhawks’ speed game. He and Frolik had both been nice complementary scorers in Florida, but Fro’s style fit the Blackhawks’ style much better.
Olesz kind of just existed in Chicago, though not for very long. He played in six NHL games before going to Rockford for parts of two seasons. He now splits time between Czech and Swiss leagues.
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