For Alexandre Fortin and Gustav Forsling, their chance to shine with the Chicago Blackhawks might be now
If you are without a picture on the Chicago Blackhawks’ website roster page, it’s safe to say your experience as an NHL player is limited or nonexistent. The Blackhawks currently boast six such players.
Forwards Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte were and continue to be two youngsters who could come in and potentially make a quick impact out of college. They are without images on the main roster page.
Goaltender Ivan Nalimov won’t be with the main team a whole lot longer, as Corey Crawford and Scott Darling aren’t going to be supplanted. But Nalimov is still around for now, and he too has no image on the main roster page.
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Defenseman Michal Kempny is an offseason signee from the KHL, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t have an image on the roster page yet, even if he projects as a guy who makes the opening night roster.
And then we have forward Alexandre Fortin and defenseman Gustav Forsling. These were guys who came into training camp with some promise, but who were ultimately expected to find a role in the minors. And while they still might, they’re also both still with the team heading into the second-to-last preseason game.
This is usually about the time when the regulars start suiting up to get some play in before the regular season begins. So it implies that Fortin and Forsling could crack “the regulars,” which would be quite a surprise considering their positions in the Blackhawks’ hierarchy prior to camp.
How did Fortin and Forsling get here?
Fortin was a fun story going into camp. After impressing at Prospect Camp and in the rookie tournament, the Blackhawks invited him to their training camp. They then upped the ante by giving Fortin a three-year contract.
Fortin is a 19-year-old Canadian who checks in at 6 feet and 175 pounds. The highest level he has ever played at is the QMJHL, which is below the AHL, OHL and ECHL. And yet he’s impressing all the right people playing against AHL and NHL competition. Here’s a breakaway goal he potted against Detroit on Sunday.
Fortin shows good on-ice instincts, impressive hands and solid speed. He always seems to be in position to take a quality shot or set up a teammate for a scoring chance. This lines up with his stats the last two QMJHL seasons, which saw him post 38 goals and 57 assists in 147 games.
Forsling has also not played at some of the game’s highest levels, though he was a little more on Blackhawks fans’ radars prior to this training camp. Forsling was the return from Vancouver for defenseman Adam Clendening in a 2015 trade.
The Swede is 20 years old and is pretty small for a defenseman — 5-11, 186 pounds. But he plays a two-way game the Blackhawks really need on their blue line, and he plays it well. Forsling has really good vision and makes crisp, clean passes. He doesn’t seem overwhelmed in the defensive zone despite his stature, nor does he seem to get out of position in the offensive zone despite being more of an offensive defenseman.
Of course, he’s done a lot of his work outside the realms of North American pro hockey. He’s spent the last two seasons with the Swedish Hockey League’s Linkopings, recording 27 points in 86 games.
Can Fortin and Forsling actually crack the roster?
This is the million-dollar question. Let’s start with Fortin, who faces a lot more of an uphill battle in trying to lock down one of the probably 14 forward spots up for grabs.
Fortin is competing against quite a few guys for a bottom-six spot, most likely (unless he impresses Q and Co. so much that he earns a top-line position). Ryan Hartman, Vincent Hinostroza, Mark McNeill, Dennis Rasmussen, Brandon Mashinter, Jordin Tootoo, Andrew Desjardins, Schmaltz and Motte are all guys who could slot into the bottom six, with Marcus Kruger pretty much guaranteed and Richard Panik floating about.
Fortin has none of the pro experience many of those guys have, nor does he have the amateur credentials of a Schmaltz/Motte type. However, he’s truly impressed Q and the rest of the staff in camp, so these last two preseason games should play a big role in Fortin staying or going.
My feeling would be that Fortin starts the season in the AHL, but there’s still a fair chance he gets a crack on opening night. The Blackhawks have let guys far less prepared for NHL action (paging Kyle Baun) onto the ice on opening night, and Fortin has actually shown something against AHL/NHL-level competition.
Forsling’s situation is much more intriguing. The Blackhawks are already down to eight defensemen. The guys we should expect to see on the roster are Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell and Kempny. That leaves Forsling, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival.
Now I know Q loves TVR and Rozi, but both guys are bringing very little to the table at this point. TVR has had a rough preseason and has only shown strong potential in blocking shots. Rozi can hardly move and struggles to stay in position on defense or chip in on offense.
So then you have the youngster Forsling who has proven solid on both ends of the ice, and who keeps getting the call in these preseason games. There is a chance TVR could play himself out of an NHL job to start the season. I don’t know the Blackhawks would re-sign Rozi only to send him to Rockford, especially since Q loves the gritty vet for a part-time role.
If TVR continues to struggle in the preseason and Forsling continues to shine, the Swede could get a spot he’s probably earned. It’d at least be worth it to give him a look in a few regular-season games, especially this early in the season, and especially with puck-moving defenseman Keith’s health in question.
I’d be surprised to see both guys on the opening night roster, but one or the other wouldn’t be totally shocking. Still, it’s been quite a journey for both, and they definitely have the attention of the Blackhawks’ brass at a time when promising youngsters are a key asset to the organization.