By Jay Zawaski–
(CBS) Earlier this week, the Blackhawks set their opening night roster, and there were a few pleasant roster surprises made by general manager Stan Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville and their staff.
As training camp opened, several young Blackhawk prospects were given the opportunity the make the team, and every single one of them made an impact on the team’s brass. Forwards like Nick Schmaltz, Vincent Hinostroza, Tyler Motte, Ryan Hartman, Mark McNeill and Alexandre Fortin battled it out for the few roster spots available up front, while blue-liners like Gustav Forsling, Erik Gustafsson, Michal Kempny, Ville Pokka and Viktor Svedberg competed for two open spots on the Hawks’ back end.
When the smoke cleared, six of those players won opening night roster spots: Schmaltz, Hinostroza, Motte, Hartman, Forsling and Kempny.
It will be interesting to see how these new, young faces integrate into Chicago’s veteran-laden lineup. The forwards who made the team all have displayed top-six ability, and while the numbers might not come right away for these players, their skill and ability will be obvious the moment the puck drops Wednesday evening when the Blackhawks host the Blues in their season opener.
Here’s a look at the expected opening night lines:
The top line is what most Hawks observers have been expecting all summer. Richard Panik is a serviceable (although not ideal) top-line left wing. Toward the end of camp, Quenneville tinkered with the idea of playing Artemi Panarin on Jonathan Toews’ left wing and moving Marian Hossa down to the third-line right wing spot with Marcus Kruger, but for now it appears as he’ll stick with the status quo.
I believe that eventually, Hossa’s future will be on that third line with Kruger. That line showed a nice chemistry in the playoffs and makes sense for Hossa, whose career is winding down. His defense is as strong as it’s ever been, but his point totals are falling as he advances in age.
With that in mind, keep an eye on the Hawks’ current fourth line. Hinostroza and Schmaltz are both candidates to replace Hossa if they show they can put up points consistently at this level. Both players have shown the versatility to move from center to wing and back again. If one of them can elevate their offensive game, he could find himself skating alongside Toews.
The third line is a pure checking line. Hartman has long been considered a “poor man’s Andrew Shaw.” After a rough start to camp, he showed enough to earn a spot, but his leash is the shortest. Fortunately for Hartman, he won’t be counted on for offense. If he can play a solid two-way game and deliver some physicality, he should stick.
Keith-Hjalmarsson (suspended for season opener)
That second pairing might be an adventure defensively, but both players can move the puck, and that’s just what the Hawks have been missing. Brian Campbell is coming off one of the best years of his career and immediately fixes the Hawks’ defense. Couple that with the meteoric rise of Forsling, and you have an exciting pair. Forsling will, however, need to maintain his level of play or Quenneville will jump right back to Trevor van Riemsdyk, his favorite security blanket.
Signing with the Blackhawks in May, Kempny comes from Russia’s KHL. The Hawks signed him for his savvy, two-way ability and experience. Kempny played well for the Czech Republic during the World Cup and didn’t miss a beat in his time in Blackhawks camp. He can play on both special teams units and should provide solid and consistent, if unspectacular, defense.
This season will be exciting to watch. The next generation of Blackhawks are finally in Chicago. Hopefully the fans (and Quenneville) will show the patience needed in developing young players.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast with James Neveau of NBCChicago.com that you can listen and subscribe to here. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.