The Blackhawks did not practice on Monday, but they were working on their skills in a shootout. Well, sort of. They were doing it with balls on (synthetic) grass in a dome instead of pucks on ice. Ben Pope at the Chicago Sun-Times shared some fun videos (and a great story) from the Blackhawks working on their soccer skills somewhere other than the hallway under the United Center pregame. Petr Cech, a good friend of Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek, is in town and a few of the Hawks players got to take shots at the great goaltender yesterday.
- While Mrazek and a few teammates weere shooting soccer balls at his friend, I was considering the future for Alex Stalock with the Blackhawks. He’s been so good this season, especially since returning from missing a month because of a concussion. And Stalock is a fun, engaging personality as well. But his play, and the need for a veteran goaltender on so many rosters with such little cap space, might make him a name to watch in trade rumors in the coming weeks.
- Pope also wrote a nice piece on Cole Guttman. I spoke to Guttman back in September — just after he signed with the Blackhawks and joined them for training camp — about the value of playing four years of college hockey at a strong program; he was the captain of the University of Denver’s national championship team last year but the Tampa Bay Lightning chose not to sign him (he was drafted by the Bolts in 2017). He had a really good, some might argue eye-opening, training camp that had a few people keeping an eye on him as he headed to Rockford.
- Guttman has been good in Rockford this year, too. In his first professional season he has 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in 26 games. I was surprised he wasn’t called up with Lukas Reichel last week when the opportunity presented itself; Brett Seney has clearly also earned a shot at the NHL (and has been up before with other organizations), but Guttman’s play has many thinking he could help Chicago.
- There are a couple comments from Rockford head coach Anders Sorensen in the Pope story that stood out to me for a couple reasons. First, they’re totally consistent with the player we saw in Chicago during training camp. And second, the way he describes Guttman is almost cut-and-paste from how the front office has described the model of players they want to build around. Here are those two statements:
‘‘His instincts, his competitiveness and his willingness to get inside the dots [are impressive],’’ Sorensen said. ‘‘He’s not the biggest guy, but he can make plays and he’s slippery. It’s hard to catch him. We like him for those attributes.’’
‘‘He’s a sponge,’’ Sorensen said. ‘‘Everything we’ve talked about, he adapts pretty quickly. Even within the game, you can tell him to make some adjustments on little things and he picks up on it right away.’’
- Yesterday on his podcast with Jeff Marek and again later on NHL Network, Elliotte Friedman spoke about how Patrick Kane‘s lingering injury may impact his trade value. As we considered here yesterday, we’ll see at practice today and in the coming days how well some rest and a treatment program helps 88 feel better and get his wheels back under him. And I do want to just remind everyone that while the injury may be a factor, there was never a guarantee that Kane went to the front office and asked for a trade/game them team(s) to whom he would accept a trade. But this is certainly an interesting topic of conversation.
- I listened to a couple interesting conversations on the NHL Network on Sirius XM radio over the past two days talking about the Montreal Canadiens’ recent struggles. When Kirby Dach scored the shootout game-winner in Chicago on Nov. 25, the Habs improved to 11-9-1. At the time, Dach had 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 21 games and was plus-one on a top line that was exciting people in Montreal. Indeed, heaven forbid you said something about Dach’s uneven resume in Chicago when he came back because you’d have Canadiens fans all over you thanking the Blackhawks for giving up on him too soon. Obviously Montreal crushed the Hawks in that trade.
- Since the dramatic shootout game-winner on Nov. 25? Dach has seven points (two goals, five assists) and is minus-seven in 20 games. And the “making the playoffs no doubt” Canadiens are 5-13-2, including a shutout loss last night that drops them right back into the Connor Bedard Sweepstakes.
- To be absolutely crystal clear: I am not saying the problem with the Canadiens is Kirby Dach.
- In fact, the conversation this morning was about the development of top overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky and how maybe he needs more time to be ready for the NHL (which is why I thought of Dach because, you know, the whole development timeline thing didn’t exist for him in Chicago). For what it’s worth, Slafkovsky has five points since the game in Chicago while averaging six fewer minutes per game than Dach.
- The conversation about Slafkovsky — which also included some talk about Shane Wright going back to junior after serving as the captain of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the World Juniors — and how each organization handles development also brought my thoughts back to Reichel’s weekend performances and the path the Blackhawks’ new front office intentionally wants to go down. Every player is going to be different but I appreciate the prudent approach.
- On the Blackhawks’ prospect front, Samuel Savoie was named to the QMJHL Team of the Week for last week after putting up three goals and three assists in three games. Not bad! He’s up to 17 goals and 20 assists for 37 points in 32 games; he posted 33 points in 64 games last year, so we’re getting a really nice post-draft bump in production from Savoie this season. A lot of people fell in love with his game during training camp so it’s good to see him rolling.
- The new USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine college poll came out on Monday and the Blackhawks are still all over the top 20. Quinnipiac made the bold jump up to No. 1 this week. Chicago now has prospects at the programs ranked No. 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 15. Notre Dame has fallen from the rankings.
- Finally, the Blackhawks are hoping to have something the Bears already own: the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft. The big differences between the NHL and NFL drafts are pretty obvious: the NHL has a lottery, so even being the worst doesn’t absolutely guarantee the top pick, and players have to declare themselves eligible for the NFL draft. After a ridiculous thrashing of TCU in the CFP Championship Game last night, a possibility for the Bears with the first selection put his hat in the ring to join the professionals.