The Blackhawks still need to figure out how they’ll look when the regular season starts. | Getty
Wyatt Kalynuk’s ankle injury and Brett Connolly’s placement on waivers Tuesday are the latest wrinkles in the Hawks’ complicated roster battles.
One week from Wednesday, the Blackhawks will begin their 2021-22 regular season.
But even as training camp enters its final week, the Hawks have 45 players technically still in camp and many decisions to make regarding their opening-night roster. And two news items Tuesday — one planned, one not — added even more intrigue.
Young defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk left practice early after injuring his ankle, and coach Jeremy Colliton said he could miss “weeks” as a result — “You feel for him, for sure,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Hawks placed forward Brett Connolly on waivers, hoping to assign him to Rockford and reduce his cap hit from $3.5 to $2.375 million. In the unlikely event he gets claimed, the Hawks will free up even more space.
“[Connolly] came into camp very prepared and in excellent shape, and he’s had a couple of good games,” Colliton said. “The issue is we’ve had some really good performances from some other players, particularly young guys, and that’s part of the business sometimes.”
Removing Kalynuk (at least temporarily) and Connolly from the equation leaves the Hawks with interesting roster battles among both forwards and defensemen. Only the goalies — Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen — are obvious.
Seven forwards — Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Tyler Johnson, Dominik Kubalik, Philipp Kurashev, Kirby Dach and Brandon Hagel — are guaranteed to play opening night.
All indications are Jonathan Toews remains on track to do so, too, although Colliton has repeatedly declined to handicap the odds of that. Ryan Carpenter and Jujhar Khaira will almost certainly also make the team.
That leaves two spots in the lineup and three or four spots on the roster up for grabs. Colliton hasn’t yet decided whether to keep 14 forwards and seven defensemen or 13 and eight, respectively.
Eight players — Henrik Borgstrom, Adam Gaudette, Dylan Strome, MacKenzie Entwistle, Mike Hardman, Alex Nylander, Lukas Reichel and Reese Johnson — are competing for those forward spots, with their individual likelihoods of making it roughly ranked in that order.
Waivers will affect things: Borgstrom, Gaudette, Strome and Nylander would need to clear them to be sent to the AHL, whereas Entwistle, Hardman, Reese Johnson and Reichel wouldn’t.
Nylander and Reichel practiced with the de facto “AHL group” Tuesday, so the Hawks might be resigned to taking that risk with Nylander. Strome remains buried in Colliton’s doghouse, but the Hawks wouldn’t dare waive him — if anything, he’s trade bait.
Borgstrom and Entwistle entered camp with 50-50 and longshot odds, respectively, but both have greatly impressed and raised their stock. Borgstrom scored a goal Saturday and Entwistle, this year’s unequivocal camp darling (a la Dennis Gilbert in 2019), scored twice Monday.
Gaudette has impressed in camp, too, although that’s less surprising given his prior NHL experience in Vancouver and his transformative offseason.
Entering Tuesday, the Hawks’ seven-man unit of Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, Jake McCabe, Calvin de Haan, Riley Stillman, Caleb Jones and Kalynuk seemed virtually cemented. But with Kalynuk now likely to miss the first road trip, the door swings open.
Jakub Galvas, a 22-year-old prospect with five years of European pro experience, was the eighth defenseman with the top practice group Tuesday. Colliton has raved about Galvas, who was largely unknown before now. The idea he could make the team seems less shocking by the day.
Ian Mitchell, conversely, had accepted he’d probably start this season in the AHL, but he might make more sense to replace Kalynuk in the NHL lineup because he’s a right-handed shot. And if the Hawks want a more physical right-handed presence, they could keep Alec Regula instead.
The Hawks do have two preseason games left — Thursday and Saturday against the Wild — to figure everything out.
“It’s exciting,” Colliton said. “We have some competition. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. [But] it’s fun to be in this situation.”