With Blackhawks training camp opening on Sept. 18, chicagoblackhawks.com is previewing the season with stories, interviews and more to get you ready.
While there is most definitely a competition for open spots and playing time among the Blackhawks’ depth forwards, it’s difficult to know whether the camp battle on the blue line actually has a roster spot at stake, or if the candidates are vying to be the first call-up from Rockford. With at least six defensemen entrenched in Chicago—seven if you count 2014 trade acquisition David Rundblad— and a top-four as good as any in the league (led by reigning Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith), there simply may not be any room for a dark horse to start with the team at the season’s opening.
It’s up to the Blackhawks’ decision-makers as to whether the team will open the year with seven or eight defensemen; the team carried eight blueliners for most of 2013-14, opting for just one extra forward. But the plan for 2014-15 will be dictated by quite a few factors, not the least of which is camp and preseason performance.
Here are a few of the defensemen to watch in the blueline competition:
Defense - RFD (AHL)
Goals: 12 | Assists: 44 | Pts: 56
Shots: 213 | +/-: +5
A mainstay on Rockford’s top pairing in 2013-14, the Blackhawks’ 2011 second-round draft pick would seem to be one of the most viable candidates for a step up to the NHL level; the New York native led Rockford in scoring last season, posting 56 points (12G, 44A), while ranking second among AHL defensemen in assists. The showing was good enough to earn him AHL First-Team All-Star honors, and he became the first AHL defenseman to make a postseason All-Star Team in each of his first two pro seasons since Dan Boyle (1999-00).
The puck-moving specialist’s defensive play has steadily improved since joining the professional ranks two years ago, and he was named Rockford’s Co-Defenseman of the Year along with his partner Klas Dahlbeck.
“We’ve got a lot of depth [at defenseman],” VP/GM Stan Bowman said after July’s Prospect Camp. “From our perspective, that’s a good thing. The only thing you can do as players is to keep improving your game. In Adam’s case, he’s continued to do that. He had a great rookie season in the American League, and then he followed that up with an even better second year. That’s good to see. You want players to be pushing to make the NHL.”
Klas Dahlbeck: Speaking of Clendening's defensive partner, it’s possible that no player in Chicago's developmental system has taken a bigger jump in the past two seasons than Dahlbeck, the stay-at-home half of Rockford’s top defensive pairing.
Selected in the third round of the 2011 draft, the Swedish defender made his name as a penalty killer and defensive specialist, but Dahlbeck made big strides on the offensive end this year, tallying 35 points (10G, 25A), while also ranking in the AHL’s top 15 in plus/minus rating (+21).
If a spot is available, Quenneville might appreciate the kind of steady presence and high hockey IQ that Dahlbeck can bring to the back end, even if there are the usual ups and downs that come with every rookie defenseman.
Kyle Cumiskey: Signed on July 2 from the Swedish Hockey League, Cumiskey appeared in 132 games with Colorado between 2006 and 2011—where he played for then-bench boss Joel Quenneville—and posted 35 points (9G, 26A). That veteran presence and knowledge of Coach Q’s system could be valuable in case of injury or if the team chooses to fill its depth slot with someone who has NHL experience.
David Rundblad: Of the four candidates listed here, Rundblad’s roster spot is likely the most secure, even if the team only opts to go with seven defenseman. Acquired for a second-round draft pick at last season’s trade deadline, the former first-round draft pick still has high upside, and with a full training camp under his belt, he could be poised to contribute more than the five games he logged with Chicago last spring.
At 23, the Swedish blueliner is still young and growing into a complete NHL player; he is known to have a high-caliber offensive style, and can be part of a lineup that drives solid puck possession, but he will need to prove that he can handle his duties in the defensive zone if he wants to see his role expanded.
Up-and-coming defensemen: Dillon Fournier, Stephen Johns, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Viktor Svedberg