Heading into next month’s training camp, we already know a fair amount about how the roster could shape up for the Chicago Blackhawks.
We know who five of the top six will be. The top line on Opening Night will most likely feature Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa is slotted in on the right wing for the second line.
Along with those two, Patrick Sharp is a lock for the top six as well, we just don’t know if it will be as a center or a wing. New acquisition Andrew Brunette appears to be a guy who will spend most of his time in Chicago in the top six, as well.
Though he’s no top six lock, we also know Dave Bolland will be there. He could end up centering the second line, but the third line seems like a more likely destination for him. He could be playing between Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik.
Then there’s the physical guys the Hawks brought in to join the forward lines this summer. Dan Carcillo won’t play every game, but he’ll be in plenty and is a lock to make the 23-man roster. Jamal Mayers also appears to be guaranteed a roster spot, we just don’t know if he’ll be centering the fourth line or lining up on the wing.
On the defensive side, we know five of the six guys that will be dressed on October 7th. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will mostly likely start off as the top pairing. Nick Leddy is moving into an increased role on the blue line, and Niklas Hjalmarsson is hoping to rebound from a disappointing season.
Three new faces will have to fit into two open spots on the defensive side. Steve Montador is going to be in the top five, that’s a certainty. Joel Quenneville figures to play the matchups with the last two, Sami Lepisto and Sean O’Donnell, but I’d bet on Lepisto getting the bulk of the time between the two.
A rarity in Chicago, we know who the starting goaltender is going to be. Corey Crawford is looking to build on a fantastic rookie season and cement himself as a franchise goaltender. He’ll be backed up by either rookie Alexander Salak or training camp invitee, Ray Emery.
That’s what we know. That’s roughly 19 guys, including one of Salak or Emery, to take up 23 spots. Each game, the Hawks will roll out 20, but there’s that extra three that will serve as healthy scratches.
The forward lines are going to be the more difficult part of the equation to figure out. We know on the defensive end, it’s going to be Keith, Seabrook, Leddy, Hjalmarsson, Montador, and either Lepisto or O’Donnell. For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s Lepisto as the sixth d-man. That’s six guys plus one healthy scratch, in O’Donnell.
We can also add goaltenders to the equation. There’s going to be two no matter what, so Crawford and his backup will make up nine out of 23 players on the active roster.
The forward lines are the more difficult part of the puzzle to solve. We know Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Brunette, Bolland, Frolik, Bickell, Mayers, and Carcillo will be in there. Since Carcillo is suspended the first two games of the season, we’ll add him to the press box with O’Donnell, making that nine forwards and another scratch. For those of you keeping score at home, that leaves nine forwards, six d-men, two goalies, and two healthy scratches, leaving open four roster spots.
The two youngsters figure to play into the equation this season. While it’s no given, a solid camp should virtually guarantee roster spots for Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger. Smith could see time in the top six, while Kruger is expected to center the fourth line, but could see time on the third if Bolland ends up on the second unit.
That’s another two, leaving just one forward spot and one guy who will be scratched. This is where things get sticky.
I’d expect Viktor Stalberg to be on the team in some fashion on Opening Night. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to see Stalberg on a wing on the fourth line on October 7th. He obviously has a ways to go in his development, but showed us some grit, which is necessary on the fourth line. Perhaps accepting that role will allow him to be as effective as one could be in the limited ice time he’s sure to see.
With 22 players and two players left, that leaves John Scott and Rostislav Olesz. Scott’s fists were more effective than anything he brought to the ice last year, as he bounced between the press box, the blue line, and the fourth line on offense. He’s reportedly worked hard in his development this offseason, and this is a guy that the Hawks like. Still, carrying eight defensemen on the roster isn’t something the Hawks are too likely to do, unless they plan on utilizing Scott up top again.
Olesz is the biggest wild card of the bunch. He was acquired in the trade that sent Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers. He carries a salary over $3 million and notched just 17 points in 44 games last season. It’s hard to imagine the Hawks just taking the guy to dump all of Campbell’s salary, but it’s certainly a possibility. Only camp will tell whether or not he belongs among the 23.
One of the final two are the one most likely bound for Rockford. The 24 guys here are the ones most likely duking it out for roster spots, but that’s not even including any sort of young guys that could make an impact at training camp similar to the way that Leddy did last season.
Once training camp rolls around, our questions should become answers, but the Blackhawks at least appear to have most of their roster already set heading into the 2011-12 season, which is certainly a positive sign if they want to get off to a fast start this year.