It may not have been terribly exciting, but the Chicago Blackhawks’ preseason opener had its winners and losers
The Chicago Blackhawks officially opened their 2016-17 season Wednesday, more or less. The team kicked off its preseason slate with an unexciting 2-0 loss to the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
After Jim Cornelison did his usual goosebump-inducing job with the national anthem, the United Center crowd was dead almost all night. About the only thing that got a rise out of those in attendance, sadly, was an early fight between Jordin Tootoo and Tom Sestito.
Still, some good and bad things happened in this game for the Blackhawks. It certainly wasn’t all terrible, if you were looking beyond the scoreboard. So here are some winners and losers from the Blackhawks’ preseason opener.
Winner: Gustav Forsling
This is the name that’s getting thrown around most on Twitter, and in a positive manner. Forsling is a 20-year-old Swedish defenseman who played last night with veteran Brian Campbell. The Blackhawks have been high on many a Swedish defenseman during this ongoing era of success, and you can certainly see why that’s the case with Forsling.
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He moved the puck decisively and effectively, and he was really solid in both ends of the ice. While he may be a little undersized — and I did see him get knocked down a couple times in board battles — Forsling makes up for this with all-around controlled and solid play.
He just seemed very comfortable on the blue line, with the wheels to get himself out of trouble in the D-zone and to create action in the neutral and offensive zones. Playing alongside Campbell probably helped, but Soupy even said after the game how much he enjoyed playing alongside Forsling.
Now, we always have to wait with bated breath as guys like Forsling take on better competition later in the preseason. The Penguins iced very few regulars last night. Still, what Forsling showed is quite a bit better than what we saw from several components of Chicago’s defense last year.
Speaking of …
Loser: Trevor van Riemsdyk
OK, so playing alongside man-mountain and penalty-taking machine Viktor Svedberg didn’t help. But TVR looked plenty bad on his own merits, and this was against mostly AHL-level talent.
There was one particular play that stuck out to me. I believe it was in the first period. Svedberg was commended by Eddie Olczyk on the TV broadcast for coming across the ice to break up a good Pens scoring opportunity. But why did Svedberg need to come across the ice to do this?
Why, because TVR decided to try and cut the play off in the neutral zone and put himself woefully out of position. And while this wasn’t the only time TVR put himself out of position in this game, it was the most egregious example.
And that’s been a hallmark of TVR’s time in Chicago. He offers some nice offensive upside and will block plenty of shots, but he struggles with some of the most basic tenets of defense. And with the Blackhawks touting this offseason training regiment TVR is going through to get better, it only makes him look worse.
At this point, TVR’s hold on a roster spot should be in jeopardy, and not just with Forsling’s early emergence. But we all know Joel Quenneville likes guys like TVR, so this clunker — and the others that will surely follow — probably won’t change anything.
Winner: The top line
The Blackhawks didn’t score any goals in this game, so it’s hard to commend many of the offensive players. But if anyone stood out last night, it was the top-line trio of Nick Schmaltz, Vincent Hinostroza and Richard Panik.
Starting with Panik, he just seemed very locked in all night. It looked like he realized what was at stake for him moving into the 2016-17 season. I think he also benefited from playing alongside a speedy playmaker in Schmaltz and a capable young center in Hinostroza.
Schmaltz was everywhere in the offensive zone, which was good to see. He was buzzing around opposing players while entering the zone and fighting for every loose puck at or below the goal line. He was also constantly trying to set up his teammates — forwards and defensemen alike — for scoring chances. Great to see, especially if Q is actually considering putting Schmaltz alongside Toews this season.
I liked seeing Hinostroza at his natural position. In his previous time with the Blackhawks, Hinostroza was put on a wing and didn’t look all that great. The tentative nature of his play in that role disappeared when he was at center last night. I would like to see more of that through the preseason, especially in a bottom-six role once the bigger guns return.
Loser: Mark McNeill
I was hoping McNeill’s slotting in the bottom six was meant to give him opportunities to bumslay against opposing bottom-sixers, even if having Dennis Rasmussen as his center would mute that somewhat.
Instead, McNeill was virtually unnoticeable. He did notch 1:21 of shorthanded time, but he couldn’t crack 12 minutes overall and finished with no shots on goal.
I’m just not sure what to think about McNeill at this point. It feels like this is his last great chance to crack the roster for longer than a game, and there was nothing to show for it. I’m not sure if it’s him or the coaches not giving him enough rope. Either way, it was a disappointing display last night.
Winner: Tanner Kero
I kind of picture Kero as a Marcus Kruger-type who isn’t expected to score a lot but instead be more of a defensive center. And while the Blackhawks don’t necessarily need another Kruger with their current lack of offense on the bottom six, at least Kero is showing the team he has value.
He notched 18:39 ice time, among the Blackhawks’ leaders. He was also on the ice for a whopping 5:58 on the penalty kill, far exceeding any other forward in that area. Kero was also an effective 56 percent at the faceoff dot.
I’m not sure where Kero fits into this team’s present and future situations, but at least he’s giving them something to think about.
Loser: Viktor Svedberg
Five of the six defensemen who dressed for the Blackhawks last night tallied at least 20 minutes of ice time. Svedberg would’ve made it six had he not continually paraded to the penalty box. He committed a double-minor and a regular minor to keep the Blackhawks’ penalty kill busy.
Svedberg was battling for the six/seventh defense spots, potentially. Now, he’s pretty much guaranteed to start the season in the AHL, as the Blackhawks’ coaching staff won’t let things like this pass.