Examining the few who are new to Blackhawks
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter September 29, 2013 9:48PM
Left wing Center Right wing
Bryan Bickell Jonathan Toews Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp Michal Handzus Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad Andrew Shaw Jimmy Hayes/Ben Smith
Brandon Bollig Marcus Kruger Joakim Nordstrom
Probable defensive pairings
Duncan Keith Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy Michal Rozsival/Michael Kostka/
Updated: September 29, 2013 11:31PM
Three years ago, the Blackhawks opened their Stanley Cup defense with a roster that was half full of new names. This year, the Hawks return mostly intact. But with the final cuts now in the books — Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin were sent to Rockford late Saturday night, and Ryan Stanton was put on waivers Sunday — there are still five new faces in the dressing room.
While Nikolai Khabibulin — not exactly a new face after spending four seasons in Chicago — has a clearly defined job as the backup goaltender, the four others are still fighting for ice time, if no longer for jobs. No matter how it shakes out, all four will be asked to play key, if not exactly starring, roles.
Here’s a look at the new guys and what to expect from them this season:
Jimmy Hayes, winger
At 6-6, 221 pounds, Hayes is the prototypical power forward, though his skating has always been a question mark. He came into camp looking quicker and shiftier than ever, posting four goals and two assists during scrimmages and adding two assists in the preseason. In 41 career NHL games, he has six goals and seven assists, but he came into his own last season in Rockford with 25 goals and 20 assists in 67 games. He’ll likely find himself on the right wing on the third line, trying to fill Bryan Bickell’s old role as the physical force and net-front presence for that unit.
Nordstom wasn’t even in the conversation when training camp opened, but the 21-year-old Swede found an easy chemistry with countryman Marcus Kruger on the penalty-killing unit, and coach Joel Quenneville noticed. Nordstrom has only played 11 games in North America — with Rockford at the end of last season — and he only scored eight goals in 101 career games in the Swedish Hockey League. But the 2010 third-rounder won’t be asked to light the lamp or log heavy minutes. He’s the new Michael Frolik, a fourth-line right wing who’ll play 8-12 minutes a night and join Kruger on the top penalty-killing unit to ease the burden on Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
Ben Smith, winger
The only ‘‘new’’ guy with his name on the Stanley Cup — he filled in for Hossa in Game 3 of the Final — Smith is practically a veteran with four years of college hockey, three years of the American Hockey League and 28 NHL games (including eight playoff games) under his belt. It took longer than most expected for him to reach this point, especially after he scored three goals in a seven-game series against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, but his versatility — he scored 27 goals with Rockford last year but also has been killing penalties for three seasons — and tenacious style should make him a valuable role player. He’ll have to battle with Hayes and perhaps Brandon Bollig for playing time on the third or fourth line.
Michael Kostka, defense
After four seasons at UMass and four-plus in the AHL, Kostka caught Quenneville’s eye as an out-of-nowhere regular for the Toronto Maple Leafs last year. He had eight assists in 35 games. Even with all seven Hawks defensemen back, Kostka impressed Quenne-ville enough to keep an eighth blue-liner. As a right-handed shot — Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy are all lefties — he offers versatility, and he was seeing some power-play time the last week of practices. With veteran Michal Rozsival likely to platoon again to conserve his health and energy, Kostka could see plenty of action if he can bump Brookbank for the seventh defenseman spot.