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Blackhawks youngsters eye full-time roles

Hawks center Andrew Shaw celebrates his third-period goal thgave Blackhawks margvictory 4-3 wover San Jose Sharks Sunday United Center. |

Hawks center Andrew Shaw celebrates his third-period goal that gave the Blackhawks the margin of victory in a 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 24, 2012 6:12AM



Andrew Shaw looked as though he has spent most of his summer lifting weights. So did Dylan Olsen.

A slimmer-looking Jimmy Hayes appeared to be in better shape, and Ben Smith looked healthy and content after various injuries.

All four players were at the Blackhawks Convention during the weekend and are part of a young group the Hawks will lean on after an uneventful offseason as far as free-agent additions go.

All say they’re ready to be full-time NHL players, not just call-ups who are in and out of the lineup. And the Hawks already have started to tout their development, as though there is a strong possibility the team only will make minor changes as the summer goes on.

‘‘How young we are will help,’’ Shaw said. ‘‘We have a lot of great veterans, and they let us know how to win. [The young players] just have to bring great energy.’’

For Shaw, Hayes and Smith, there are spots to be had up front. But there also is plenty of competition, with the Hawks expected to give 19-year-old Brandon Saad a spot this season and coach Joel Quenneville valuing fighters such as Brandon Bollig.

Still, all strongly think they can fill the Hawks’ holes. They think they can make the Hawks tough to play against, which has been one of general manager Stan Bowman’s goals since 2010.

‘‘I always take the summers
really seriously,’’ said Hayes, a 6-6 power forward. ‘‘I train [to] put
myself in the best position to make the team right out of training camp.’’

All of them are doing what they were told to do in their exit meetings. For Shaw, who is already a fan favorite, that means bulking up to better handle the agitator role he covets. He already has added 12 pounds this summer.

‘‘You just keep working, and hopefully it will be a great year,’’ he said.

Olsen, one of Quenneville’s favorites, would be the Hawks’ second-biggest defenseman (behind Brent Seabrook) if he were to make the team. He has spent the summer
improving his footwork and shot.

Olsen sees a spot to be had on the Hawks’ blue line, which might undergo eventual changes. Steve Montador’s status is still uncertain, and Niklas Hjalmarsson is being dangled as trade bait.

‘‘I’ve taken in what they told me to work on,’’ Olsen said. ‘‘Hopefully I can prove to them I’m ready for that position come September.’’

Smith has started skating after undergoing season-ending surgeries for a hernia and torn cartilage in his hip in March.

‘‘You always have to prove yourself,’’ said Smith, who recently signed a two-year deal with two-way option in the first year. ‘‘My main goal is to get to 100 percent and then from there earning whatever I can.’’

Like the others.



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