Below is an excerpt from VP/GM Stan Bowman's interview on the Blackhawks Insider podcast. To listen to the full interview, click here. Or subcribe to the podcast in iTunes.
Insider: What has been the biggest surprise... about the Blackhawks’ success so far?
Bowman: The importance of a good start to a season like this, you’ve got to get after it early. We had a number of top guys who didn’t play during the lockout. Our bottom six all played, and we knew they were going to be strong for us in terms of rolling four lines. Joel [Quenneville] said early on that we wanted to use all of our players, that we’re not going to lean on too many of our guys too much.
With the big guys, you’re not sure; sometimes it takes them a little bit longer to get going. But that wasn’t the case. [Marian] Hossa, [Jonathan] Toews, [Patrick] Sharp, and [Dave] Bolland didn’t play during the lockout. [Patrick] Kane did, and he’s obviously off to a great start. That’s the nice part.
Our goaltending is something we’ve had a lot of confidence in and the way that [Corey Crawford]’s playing now is the way that we know he can play. It gives our team a nice look, and we’ve got a lot of balance.
Defensively we’ve been able to use all of our defensive pairs in a more even distribution so we’re not going to wear out our top unit of [Duncan] Keith and [Brent] Seabrook. For that reason, it’s been the start that we had hoped for.
How confident were you that bringing back this team relatively intact from last year would ultimately work out?
We didn’t know it was going to be a 48-game season last summer obviously, but continuity is important in any year and especially this year, when you’ve got a short amount of time to get some chemistry going. We don’t have a lot of new players to mix. We have a lot of faith in the guys here. The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but you still have to look at the big picture, which is that there were a lot of good things that happened last year. It’s a fine line between winning and losing. We saw that in the playoffs—there were a lot of close games that could have gone either way.
We didn’t need to make wholesale changes to our team. You see the evolution in some players. A guy like Nick Leddy, who spent the first half of the season in Rockford, has matured a lot from last year. We’re getting more out of him, which we expected to.
We’ve had Johnny Oduya here for the full season which we didn’t have last year. He was so good when he came in, but he came in so late in the year. When you look at some other guys who have been with us a little longer like [Viktor] Stalberg and [Bryan] Bickell. They’ve gotten off to good starts. They’re all just a little bit more comfortable in their surroundings and familiar with what their role is with the team. Their roles haven’t really changed much, which is a reason as to why they’ve hit the road running so far this season.
Talk about how a guy like Oduya has come in and fit in with the team. Has he exceeded your expectations a little bit?
In all honesty, he really has. Looking at the way he has played this year, in addition to the way he played from the trade deadline on last year, the style that we play seems to really mesh with him. He’s got great mobility and can skate the puck up the ice, but he’s also got patience with the puck. He hangs on until that last second and then he finds one of our forwards and we get out of the zone as a result. That is something that seems to fit well with the group he have here.
Our forwards like the puck: They like to have it, they don’t necessarily like to chase it down. When we get that type of player who can get the puck to them and get the offense going, and his mobility is really noticeable out there. He can track a puck down and allow us to be a more aggressive puck pursuit team when we don’t have it, because he’s up in the play and he’s making things happen. He’s been a really nice addition for us; he’s really stabilized that second unit. I think [Niklas] Hjalmarsson has played some of his best hockey ever starting off this season. He’s been really good. I think those two together just really complement one another.
With all the 20-year-olds making an impact in the NHL, is there a reasonable timeline for Teuvo Teravainen to play in Rockford next year and get a shot at the big team for the 2014-15 season? (Question submitted by Dan Harland in LaGrange, Ill.)
Teuvo’s an exciting young player that we were fortunate to get where we did in the Draft, and he’s really had a good season offensively for his team [Jokerit], being one of the youngest players in that entire league. He did have an injury early in the season and was out for a few weeks, but now that he’s back, he’s scoring again.
Trying to project where he’s going to be and when he’ll be in the NHL is a difficult endeavor for a number of reasons. Number one—we don’t know what our roster needs are going to be next year, let alone two years from now. Things do change and players improve, and we have different needs as time goes on.
What we’re looking for from Teuvo is to continue his development, and we assess that year by year. I’m sure we’re going to have him at our Prospect Camp this summer; we’ll have a discussion with him in terms of how he plays there and how he finishes this season, and look to the future. Obviously, he’s got a ton of talent. He’s a highly skilled individual, he’s got elite playmaking ability, and he’s a guy we’re really excited just thinking about how he’ll help our team down the road.
To hear the entire 17-minute interview with Stan's answers to fan questions, listen to the podcast here.