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Are Blackhawks’ Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith for real?


Marcus Kruger has shot make team. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Marcus Kruger has a shot to make the team. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 30, 2011 12:16AM



The up-in-the-air status of star forwards Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp for training camp Saturday won’t exactly open doors for other players, but it should give some more opportunities to impress.

Like Rostislav Olesz.

“We want to try and figure out where he fits in the mix,” general manager Stan Bowman said.

Isn’t everybody?

Still, there aren’t as many questions as there seems. Yes, competition should be as fierce as the Hawks brass is hoping camp will be, but there really are only a few spots open. They targeted and signed all those “tough to play against” players for a reason.

“We put a competitive environment together,” vice president Al MacIsaac said. “What comes out of it ultimately will be 23 players. The rest will go to the American League or won’t be here. We have to make that decision after evaluating them during training camp and the preseason schedule.”

Of course, as Bowman often says, injuries can happen and change things. Either way, here’s a look ahead:

AT FORWARD

On the record: “Up front, it’s little more up for grabs. We’re looking to see guys step up in training camp. We had a couple of young kids who ended the year really strong. [Marcus] Kruger and Ben Smith, I thought, were very impressive for us in the playoffs and in the last week or two in the season. You wonder, was that the norm or was that an aberration?” — Bowman

Open spots: Two, maybe three.

Locks (11): Kane, Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo (after his suspension) should all have spots. Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell also should be considered safe bets.

Next in line: Smith, Kruger.

Work to do: Rostislav Olesz, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Segal, Brett McLean, Kyle Beach, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri.

Back check: Rookies Kruger and Smith can still be sent to Rockford without having to clear waivers, but they’ve become the Hawks’ top prospects up front and Bowman would like some youth in his lineup. It’s their spots to lose. Veterans Segal and McLean signed two-way deals. Olesz is the biggest wild card up front.

ON DEFENSE

Quote: “I think we have a pretty good idea of the guys that are going to be here. I don’t know who is going to be paired with who, but our defense is pretty stable when you’ve got [Duncan] Keith, [Brent] Seabrook, [Nick] Leddy, [Niklas] Hjalmarsson, [Steve] Montador, [Sean] O’Donnell and then [Sami] Lepisto and [John] Scott. Those last four guys can mix and match in any different way.” — Bowman

Open spots: One.

Locks (6): As Bowman somewhat said, Keith, Seabrook, Leddy, Hjalmarsson, Montador and O’Donnell should start as the top six.

Next in line: Lepisto, Scott.

Work to do: Dylan Olsen, Shawn Lalonde, Brian Connelly and any other Rockford-bound defensemen.

Back check: Scott may turn out to be the odd-man out if he doesn’t show the progress the Hawks want. The Hawks have enough guys who can fight on the roster. Bowman continues to gush over Leddy’s potential so it’s unlikely he sees time in Rockford. Montador’s new four-year deal makes him part of the long-term plan.

IN GOALQuote:

“The backup goalie [spot] is wide open.” — assistant GM Marc Bergevin

Open spots: Just one, of course

Lock (1): Crawford didn’t get a new three-year, $8 million contract to be the backup.

Next in line: Ray Emery, Alexander Salak.

Work to do: Alec Richards

Back check: Emery is very motivated to earn a contract. If he plays well, he’ll get it and be a good insurance plan behind Crawford if he shows signs of a sophomore slump. Salak has potential, but he can be sent to Rockford without having to clear waivers and should benefit from more seasoning. The jump from Sweden to the NHL is a big one.



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