The Chicago Blackhawks will begin training camp on Friday, and there are going to be plenty of questions surroudning the team as they put together their roster.
In order to tackle each of these questions, we’re taking a look at the team’s options at each spot on the roster, and today we’re looking at the defensemen and the goaltenders that will be competing for roster spots.
Roster Locks: Duncan Keith, Michal Kempny, Connor Murphy, Brent Seabrook
Keith and Seabrook are obvious picks here, and Murphy is going to make the team after the Blackhawks traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to get him in the offseason.
The inclusion of Kempny may be surprising, but the team is very high on his chances of having a strong second season, and while he showed some growing pains in his rookie campaign, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which he isn’t on the ice for opening night in October.
Competing for a Spot: Gustav Forsling, Cody Franson, Jordan Oesterle, Ville Pokka, Michal Rozsival, Jan Rutta, Mark Stuart, Viktor Svedberg
The Blackhawks will likely try to keep a total of seven defensemen, especially if a player like Rozsival or Franson makes the team. Rotating a veteran and a younger player in and out of the mix would be a very smart idea, and this roster would be conducive to it.
The two players to really keep an eye on out of this group are Forsling and Rutta. Forsling has gotten a lot of praise from the organization while he’s been in Chicago, and if he can show the two-way game that the team thinks he’s capable of, then he’ll be on the starting blue line on opening night.
As for Rutta, he’s a bit more of an unknown, but his skillset in European leagues has been exciting to watch. He may benefit from time in Rockford to learn the speed of the North American game, but a strong camp could land him on the team’s roster like Kempny did a season ago.
Dark Horses: Erik Gustafsson, Darren Raddysh, Luc Snuggerud
Players like Snuggerud and Raddysh have excited Blackhawks fans throughout the run-up to training camp, but with the team’s decision to bring in players like Franson and Stuart for training camp, their road to the roster seems to be blocked at this point.
Both players, or even Gustafsson for that matter, could earn a call-up if injuries happen during the season, but at least initially, it seems as though the team has enough options to warrant giving the young guys a bit more seasoning in the minor leagues.
Roster Lock: Corey Crawford
Competing for a Spot: Jean-Francois Berube, Anton Forsberg
After Scott Darling was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, the need for a new back-up goaltender became a prime concern for the Blackhawks, and both Berube and Forsberg should be in the mix to earn that spot.
At this point, one would argue that Forsberg, acquired in the Artemi Panarin trade, has more upside as an NHL goalie, but counting Berube out at this point would be foolish. He had a 3.42 goals against average in 14 games for the New York Islanders last season, so he has the requisite NHL experience needed to replace Darling in net.
The big question of course will be whether either player is capable of carrying the team for stretches like Darling did while Corey Crawford was injured. That is a massively tall order, but if the Blackhawks have proven anything over the years with players like Ray Emery and Antti Raanta, they know how to scout and develop strong back-up goaltenders.
The Final Tally:
We'll guess the Blackhawks go with seven defensemen, so the four locks will make our predicted roster, as will Franson, Forsling, and Rutta in a bit of an upset.
For goaltenders, we'll predict that Crawford will be the starter, and that Berube will be the backup to start the season, with Forsberg waiting in the wings.