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FEATURE: All eyes on the future blueline

As the first day of Development Camp unfolded, it was clear that a lot of attention was on the Blackhawks' top-end defensive talent

by Chris Wescott /

If the Blackhawks brass were to look into a crystal ball, intent on seeing the future of their blueline, through the fog would emerge some of the faces you see at this year's Development Camp.

Video: Lear's Look: Boqvist focused on the future

The team's future core on the backend seems destined to contain players like Adam Boqvist, Henri Jokiharju, Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell - all players whom the club invested some valuable draft capital in.

But there is no crystal ball and you can't see the future, and that's why Development Camp exists.

The Blackhawks are hoping to instill certain knowledge and habits in these young defensemen, giving them the right tools to succeed. With time, patience, and more work, you could see this group - or a version of it -united at some point.

"I think so," said Mitchell. "They definitely have a lot of good prospects here so hopefully I can be part of that group."

Think of Mitchell as the elder statesman of the group, which is humorous considering he's only 19 years-old. However, Mitchell is a more mature prospect, having played a season in the NCAA for the University of Denver and having gone through a Development Camp before. The 2017 second-round pick is a vet compared to his class of 2018 counterparts.

By comparison, the 17-year-old Boqvist is much younger, but what he lacks in experience and age he makes up for with talent and gusto.

"Try to work harder than the other guys," the 2018 eighth-overall pick said of his approach to the crowded defensive prospect pool.

The level of competition amongst peers at this camp is not lost on Mitchell either.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensive prospects," he said. "Obviously, when you go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can and you want to be the best defenseman here. That's my goal going in is I want to prove to everyone I'm a good defenseman and I deserve to play at the next level. There are a lot of good players here and you're all trying to succeed."

Forever linked by their draft status, Beaudin and Boqvist enter this year's camp together and they've begun to form a bond amidst the competitive atmosphere.

"He was the first pick of the Blackhawks and I've talked to him and we get along pretty good," said Beaudin, who was selected 19 picks later than Boqvist in June. "He's a righty, I'm a lefty. It would be nice if one day we could play together. We'll see. We're just here this week to learn about the system of the Blackhawks and have a fun week."

Not to be overshadowed is Jokiharju, whose impact in the NHL is expected sooner than the others. The 2017 first-round pick is hoping to make the Blackhawks' roster out of camp, and he's been getting to know his fellow defensemen and potential future teammates.

"I like talking to those guys, they're super nice guys," he said. "I'm happy to have those guys here.

Video: The 29th Pick

"With everyone, there's competition, but you want to be a good friend and have a good relationship with those guys. I enjoy the competition."

One thing all of these players have in common is they are less of the heavy, physical defenders of years past and more of the swift transporters of the puck that today's game values.

There are more than 40 players donning the red and white jerseys at MB Ice Arena this week. Above the ice sits the Blackhawks brass, gazing down onto the white surface as if it was their crystal ball. All week, visions of the bright future core of defensemen will cut through the fog.

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