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New Blackhawk Rostislav Olesz needs to find niche, stay healthy

Rostislav Olesz (center) battles for puck during scrimmage training camp Saturday United Center. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Rostislav Olesz (center) battles for the puck during a scrimmage at training camp Saturday at the United Center. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 24, 2011 12:25AM

The riveting rendition of the national anthem, the packed stadium for practice and just about everything else felt new to winger Rostislav Olesz.

He knows he’s not in Florida anymore.

Olesz, 25, was beaming when he met the media after his first taste of Blackhawks hockey Saturday at the United Center during the team’s Training Camp Festival.

“It’s an honor for me to be here,” he said.

It’s also refreshing to be on the ice. Olesz just was cleared for full participation after months of rehabbing the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee he suffered last season with the Panthers.

“The summer was slow for me because I had to recover from the surgery,” Olesz said. “It was five months ago, maybe six. It was every day I worked with my knee. I couldn’t do too much. It was step by step.”

The Hawks believe the torn ACL and other injuries derailed Olesz’s progress since he broke into the league in 2005-06. Olesz has yet to play a full NHL season. He played in a career-high 78 games two years ago, recording 29 points.

He played only 44 games last season because of the knee injury. During the NHL draft in June, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon traded him for defenseman Brian Campbell. The move freed the Hawks of a huge salary burden (it opened $4.1 million under the cap), but it gave them one of their biggest question marks in camp.

But general manager Stan Bowman made it clear that camp is more a case of Olesz finding his niche on the team, not making it.

“He’s been an NHL player for a while here,” Bowman said. “He’s established himself as a solid player in the league. For him, it’s staying healthy.

“I think his versatility is going to be something that [coach] Joel [Quenneville] likes. We’ve seen it with other players here before when they can move around not only within a line but on different lines, to move up to play with top players or to move down as more of a role player.”

Olesz took some shifts with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Brunette in scrimmages Saturday and said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to ensure playing time. At times, that meant standing in front of goalie Ray Emery.

“It was the first day we got to see him,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t mind him. This guy can play. Hopefully as we go along here, he can elevate his game where he’s going to be a big part of our team.”

Olesz’s evaluation?

“It was the first day I was cleared since the surgery,” Olesz said. “It is already tough because my right leg is not a healthy leg. It’s not 100 percent. But I feel really comfortable on the ice.”

Steve Montador and Michael Frolik were teammates of Olesz with the Panthers. Frolik even lived with him during one season.

“He’s a big guy, and he’s strong in the corners,” Frolik said of the 6-1, 214-pounder. “He’s huge. He needs to use the body. When he does that, he’s going to be a pretty good player. His first advantage is the body. That’s his strength. If he stays healthy, he could be a good player.”

“My best hockey is coming,” Olesz said.

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