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Competition at Blackhawks camp billed as fierce thanks to newcomers

New Hawk Sean O’Donnell said defense is “well-rounded group six seven or eight guys.” | Lou Capozzola~Getty Images

New Hawk Sean O’Donnell said the defense is “a well-rounded group of six, seven or eight guys.” | Lou Capozzola~Getty Images

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Updated: July 3, 2011 2:24AM

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman used the word “mixture” ­often when talking about the veterans he signed with the goal of having a tougher team.

As in, “We’re really excited about the mixture of players we were able to add.”

Or, “It’s a mixture that was very ­attractive to us.”

But Bowman’s mix appears to be overflowing, with potentially 24 players — including eight defensemen — having contracts if he stays true to his word and signs wingers Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik and ­defenseman Chris Campoli, all restricted free agents.

Of course, it’s possible that Bowman will trade one of them or winger Rostislav Olesz. But right now, the competition level at training camp is being billed as fierce.

“We do have a lot of good young players coming,” Bowman said. “What we didn’t want to do [is] what some of these teams chose to do . . . sign guys to all these long-term contracts. We’re very committed to the future of our franchise with young players. But I don’t think you want to hand out jobs in the summertime. Those are jobs to be earned, not only in training camp, but throughout the season.”

Winger Ben Smith, center Marcus Kruger and defenseman Nick Leddy are considered the young players in line for more prominent roles. That said, it’s possible that Bowman, without serious cap constraints for once, will go with the maximum 23-man roster, at least to start the season.

The Hawks could hold on to a blend of youth and gritty veterans, giving coach Joel Quenneville plenty of options.

“One thing we’ve seen with Joel Quenneville the last couple years is he loves players that can move around a bit on different lines,” Bowman said.

Signing Jamal Mayers, Dan Carcillo, Andrew Brunette and Sean O’Donnell to one-year deals also gives the Hawks more time to groom their young players, especially after last year’s youth experiment failed.

Brunette should be considered among the top six forwards, O’Donnell a valuable sixth defenseman and Mayers and Carcillo an intriguing and potentially intimidating tandem on the fourth line.

“If those [young] players are better than the other players, then we’re ­going to find a way to get them in the lineup,” Bowman said. “I like the fact that we have a strong group of players who have already done it. You can count on them to be there, and then you have young players who are hungry to do it.”

If Campoli is signed, the biggest logjam will be on defense. O’Donnell might be the odd man out, especially with the younger Steve Montador joining the Hawks’ core with a four-year deal.

“From top all the way down, it’s a pretty good blue line,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a well-rounded group of six, seven or eight guys.”

The signings can be considered a message to every Hawks player.

“They don’t look just to play the body,” Bowman said. “They kind of can do it all. Those are the attributes we’re looking for. We want to be difficult to play against.”

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