How many rookies will make the team this year since it looks like there will be some spots open because some players from last year were not re-signed? -- Bill Wong, Grand Prairie, AB
Bill, I don't expect any rookies to make the team on defense or in net. Corey Crawford and Mike Brodeur will backstop Rockford with Wade Flaherty while Nikolai Khabibulin and Patrick Lalime handle the duties here.
On defense, Cam Barker and James Wisniewski no longer qualify as rookies, and I suspect Niklas Hjalmarsson will need at least one year in Rockford to acclimate to the North American style. (Though seeing Hjalmarsson in Chicago at some point during the season is certainly a good possibility.) I expect Dustin Byfuglien to wear the Indian head this season, but not necessarily to make the team out of camp.
Which leaves us with the forwards... You've got to figure that the Hawks' past two 1st round picks, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, are locks to make the squad. They'll join veterans Martin Havlat, Robert Lang, Sergei Samsonov, Tuomo Ruutu, Yanic Perreault, Martin Lapointe, Jason Williams, Patrick Sharp, Kevyn Adams and Rene Bourque.
That really just leaves two potential roster spots open. David Koci, who just misses qualifying as a rookie because of his age, will surely get strong consideration at wing serving as the team's enforcer.
I see Troy Brouwer, Michael Blunden and 2005 1st round pick Jack Skille battling with Koci for those two remaining spots (or three, if Dale Tallon moves one of the guys listed above) and certainly playing for the big club this year.
All three are big, strong kids with skill. Of the three, Skille is easily the best skater, but he's also a year behind Brouwer and Blunden, who each played in the AHL last season. Brouwer, of course, had a phenomenal year tallying 41 goals and 38 assists. His 41 goals and 79 points set new Norfolk single-season rookie records.
Skille is young and Blunden is coming off shoulder surgery last December that forced him to miss the bulk of the season, so I've got to give a slight edge to Brouwer right now. But it will certainly be a fun competition to watch in camp!
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