Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks Training Camp: Latest Cuts, Hjalmarsson’s Ban

By Colin Likas
Apr 15, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) is seen during game two of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. The Blackhawks won the game 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) is seen during game two of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. The Blackhawks won the game 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks made their most recent round of cuts at training camp, with few surprises

On Sunday night, the Chicago Blackhawks dropped their third preseason game in four attempts, falling on the road to Detroit 6-3. It was by far the Blackhawks’ worst defensive output of the preseason, as they had allowed just three goals in the three previous games combined.

Things may look a bit more normal in the team’s final two preseason games, with the first coming Tuesday. The Red Wings will visit the United Center, and guys like Corey Crawford, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will be back with the team. We could see coach Joel Quenneville roll a pretty regular lineup moving forward.

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But as far as the training camp roster goes, the Blackhawks made some cuts to theirs this morning.

Forwards Luke Johnson, Tanner Kero and Martin Lundberg, defensemen Erik Gustafsson, Robin Norell and Ville Pokka and goaltender Lars Johansson were sent to Rockford, while forwards Chris DeSousa and Jake Dowell were released from their contracts.

The Blackhawks also placed on waivers forwards Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Sam Carrick and Spencer Abbott, and defensemen Cameron Schilling and Viktor Svedberg.

That leaves the Blackhawks with 17 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders ahead of the Oct. 12 season opener.

Any surprises on the cuts/non-cuts?

Two of the cuts offered at least a small bit of intrigue. Kero was getting a good crack at a bottom-six forward role, especially on the penalty kill. I thought he might’ve been gone from the big team later than this.

But the Blackhawks are really looking for more scoring in their bottom six, and Marcus Kruger pretty well fills the PK forward role. Not that you can have too many penalty-killers, but with a team that needs scoring depth, you have to find areas to cut from.

Gustafsson was shooting for the sixth or seventh defenseman spot, and he was sent away relatively early. This is especially interesting when you consider Trevor van Riemsdyk has been pretty terrible in the preseason, but Gustafsson hasn’t been markedly better himself.

As for the non-cuts, there’s more surprise there. Let’s start with the forwards.

The training camp roster still features several guys who weren’t on the main roster at all or for a majority of last season: Alexandre Fortin, Vincent Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Mark McNeill, Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz. (Not counting Jordin Tootoo here, as he’s a seasoned vet.)

chicago blackhawks
Oct 1, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Tyler Motte (64) is congratulated for scoring a goal during the third period of a preseason hockey game against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Chicago won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

What to make of these non-cut forwards

Fortin is an extremely interesting name. He burned Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek on a breakaway last night and has looked outstanding prior to and since signing a three-year deal with Chicago.

The general consensus seems to be Fortin will head to the minors at some point, as a jump from QMJHL play to the NHL would be almost unprecedented. But he might back the Blackhawks into a corner if he keeps finding the net.

And then we’ve got the guys who get talked about a lot. Hartman and Hinostroza, you pretty much know what you’re getting from them. Q and his staff have placed the two in a number of situations this preseason to see how they react. The results have been … fine, I guess. Certainly not “you have to have these guys,” though.

Schmaltz has been solid during camp, playing both ways pretty effectively. He was one of the more likely “young guy” candidates to crack the opening night roster prior to training camp, and he hasn’t done anything to change that thought. If he gets to play alongside some of the regulars in these next two preseason games, we can really see what he has to offer.

Motte has had one of the better training camps of all the young Blackhawks, and he’s essentially playing himself onto the team. This is exactly what you like to see, as the Blackhawks needed at least a couple youngsters to step up this preseason. Motte has shown great offensive instincts and capable defense, perfect for a Q project.

Then there’s McNeill. I’m honestly surprised he wasn’t shipped out with this round of cuts, but I guess the Blackhawks aren’t ready to call it quits on him. Which is fine by me. I think he has some untapped potential, and the Blackhawks are giving him every opportunity to find it now. McNeill set up Dennis Rasmussen for a goal last night, so that was nice.

chicago blackhawks
Sep 30, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Dominik Simon (49) handles the puck as Chicago Blackhawks goalie Mac Carruth (60) and defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) defend during the third period in a preseason hockey game at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

What about the defensive side?

Gustafsson’s departure really opens a door for Gustav Forsling. The young Swedish defender has turned heads during training camp, playing a really strong two-way game from the blue line. He’s really the only “unfamiliar” name still on the defense roster.

Now, Forsling is going to be competing against the likes of TVR and Michal Rozsival for the sixth/seventh D spots. Forsling has been noticeably better than TVR, and it’s no stretch to say he’s going to offer more than what Rozsival brings at this stage of his career.

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If the Blackhawks actually decide to ice Forsling on opening night, or even have him in the press box, it would be a giant leap of faith from Coach Q, a guy who has been labeled (sometimes fairly) as one to not give youngsters a chance. Letting Forsling handle a third-pairing role would be the most interesting storyline to come out of camp, unless Fortin also cracks the roster.

Other tidbits

In other Blackhawks news, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is having a phone hearing today for his hit on St. Louis’ Ty Rattie over the weekend. It was an interesting hit; Hjalmarsson came up high, though it looked like the point of emphasis was Rattie’s shoulder. Whether he left the ice is up to fans’ debate.

But the hit probably wasn’t necessary, given there was about 1:30 to play and the Blackhawks were up by four. Hjammer probably just wanted to shake up the youngster a bit, punish him for skating through the middle of the ice with his head down. It was a scarier-looking hit than the actual result, as Rattie is apparently OK.

Given this is a phone interview, Hjammer could be looking at a one- or two-game ban. If it was an in-person hearing, we’d be talking bigger. But Hjammer doesn’t have a dirty history. Blackhawks fans know he lays out a huge hit once every 10 to 15 games, if that.

Still, it was a huge-looking hit, and it was high and potentially feet-leaving. So Hjammer could face a small ban. Not a huge deal, though it would be problematic against St. Louis in the opener, no doubt.

Next: Blackhawks' Top-Line Candidates

And since we’re talking about the Blues, a final note for this post: longtime irritant Barret Jackman is set to retire as a Blue. I have nothing positive to say about him; I’m just glad the Blackhawks aren’t reportedly gunning for his services this offseason.

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