Attending his team's prospect development camp on Friday, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman was pleased to report that he was expecting all his players to be healthy for the team's upcoming training camp. Entering the 2013-14 season as the defending Stanley Cup champions, Chicago will have some vacant roster spots. But those holes won't be due to injury.
Forward Bryan Bickell, who finished second on the team with nine goals and 17 points in the postseason, signed a four-year, $16 million extension with the club before undergoing surgery to repair a torn tendon in his thumb. But he is expected to be fully recovered in time for camp.
"Bickell's injury is not going to stretch into training camp. There are a lot of guys who played with injuries in long playoff battles," Bowman said Friday. "It goes to show you how competitive these guys are. They're able to do things during those playoff series that most people wouldn't be able to play with. Hats off to them. We expect a full training camp."
Fortunately, that full training camp will include veteran Marian Hossa, who Bowman stated would not require surgery after being hampered by a back injury during the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. The injury forced Hossa to miss Game 3 of the Cup Final, but he is expected to be fine for training camp. The same goes for veteran forward Michal Handzus, who contended with a number of injuries in winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in his 15-year career before signing a one-year extension with Chicago on July 5.
"He was a warrior in the playoffs. He never complained and he played some big minutes for us," Bowman said of Handzus. "He had a big role and was one of the reasons we were able to do what we did. He's a quiet guy that way. You never realized how much of a warrior he was."
Injuries aren't expected to interfere with the Blackhawks' training camp, but there will still be some roster spots to fill. In all, four players from Chicago's championship team won't be back to defend the title. Goaltender Ray Emery and forward Viktor Stalberg left in free agency to join the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators respectively, while Chicago traded center Dave Bolland to the Toronto Maple Leafs and wing Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets.
In their absence, the team is expecting to give a long look to prospects Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, both of whom were selected by Chicago in the first round of the 2011 Draft.
"Mark and Phillip were both first-round picks and this is their third [rookie] camp. You can tell they kind of stand out a little bit, just with their experience and their type of game," Bowman said. "I think both of them are going to get a good look in training camp. I spoke with them this week and let them know that it's really up to them to come to camp and show us that they belong in the NHL. We have no hesitation putting young players in."
That much was apparent with the Blackhawks this past season, when Brandon Saad, the team's second-round pick in 2011, cracked the squad and made some big contributions.
If there is a dark horse to make his mark on the team in the 2013-14 season, it could be forward Drew LeBlanc. The 24-year-old had a magical season at St. Could State, where he won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top collegiate hockey player before being signed by Chicago and dressing in two regular season games. In May, he won a bronze medal with Team USA at the IIHF World Championship.
LeBlanc remains a restricted free agent, but Bowman singled him out as someone he was looking to sign and bring to camp.
"We've talked to Drew's agent this week," Bowman said. "We're going to get him signed for sure. He's another guy who is in the mix. He had a great season last season and he was able to go play for Team USA in the World Championship. I would expect him to be pushing for a spot next year."
For a franchise that lost a number of key players immediately after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, that's encouraging news.