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Blackhawks center Mark McNeill shows promise in brief look

Updated: November 30, 2011 12:18AM

The odds were against center Mark McNeill from the start. The 18th overall pick in the June draft was bound for the Western Hockey League for at least one more season.

Still, that didn’t prevent McNeill from making an impact in the handful of days he participated in Blackhawks camp. He turned in a solid performance in the team’s preseason opener Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers in Saskatoon, Sask.

McNeill, a 6-1, 211-pound center, was assigned Wednesday to the Prince Albert Raiders. His season starts Friday — in Saskatoon.

‘‘We thought he really got better each and every day — prospect camp, rookie [tournament] and here at our level,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘There’s a lot to like about him. He’s got some great qualities that can make him a special player.’’

Winger Patrick Kane also was impressed by McNeill.

‘‘He seems like the kind of player I like to play with: a two-way, gritty center and forward,’’ Kane said. ‘‘He was good.’’

Having the chance to play with Kane and others was a great learning experience, McNeill said.

‘‘The speed and tempo is a lot higher,’’ said McNeill, who had 81 points in 70 games last season for Prince Albert. ‘‘A lot of guys have a lot more skill. It’s great to watch them and learn from them.’’

Sharp update

Forward Patrick Sharp (appendectomy) watched both practices at the United Center.

‘‘He said he’s feeling way better,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘He said he’s excited about where he’s at. He wanted to do some working out. It’s positive.’’

Playing in Pittsburgh

Ray Emery and Alex Salak will split time in goal for the second time when the Hawks square off against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Salak will start.

Quenneville said it’s doubtful that Kane or winger Marian Hossa will play in the next three preseason games. The plan is to have them play in the final three.

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