The Blackhawks got into the win column for the first time in the 2019 preseason with a 2-1 victory over the Red Wings on Wednesday night to close out a busy start to the week with three games in as many nights.
It was obviously great to get the win in the first game played at the United Center this season, but here are three other things we learned on the night:
A looming question for some time has been if Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are playing together, who occupies the wing opposite Kane on a full-time basis?
"We've got some more games that we need to play. I need to try some different combos and it's an option," head coach Jeremy Colliton said of Kane and Toews possibly playing together on opening night. "If we start with them together, they're also going to play apart. And if we start with them apart, they're also going to play together … I'm not so worried about them working together, it's more like if they are going to play together, who might be an option with them."
On Wednesday, it was young Alexander Nylander who took on that all-important role on the top line. The 21-year-old notched an assist on Duncan Keith's game-winner and the line as a whole accounted for six shots and numerous chances on the night.
"It's awesome (playing with those guys)," Nylander said after the game. "You've got to be aware every time you're on the ice, you can get the puck whenever. I think we played well together and we created a lot of chances, we just didn't capitalize on them. I think we played pretty good tonight."
"We know he's going to do a lot with the puck," Colliton said of Nylander's role, noting again that it's what he does off the puck that will decide where he fits within the Blackhawks system. "(It was) their first time playing together, so there are always going to be some kinks you're working out as far as the plays they're making and whatnot, but he had a great net drive on (Duncan Keith)'s goal. Those are the things that people don't notice but it opens up ice. We want to open up ice for those skill guys he's playing with.
I thought he had a couple really good tracks, he was forechecking, he was skating - and that's what we're looking for. If he can continue to do that, then he can be effective at this level, no matter who he's playing with."
It remains to be seen if Nylander will stick as that top-line winger, but with every passing day he's showing more and more that he's an increasingly strong candidate to lock up one of the few forward spots up for grabs with the NHL club.
One of Chicago's most consistent players at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament some 10 days ago has been waiting in the wings through the opening exhibition games, but on Wednesday night, Brandon Hagel once again took full advantage of his opportunity in the lineup.
Early in the second period, with the Hawks trailing 1-0, Hagel drove the net hard on the forecheck and forced a turnover from Red Wing goalie Jonathan Bernier behind his own net. Hagel quickly moved the puck from backhand to forehand and buried a shot past the scrambling Bernier for the game-tying goal.
"I have to work hard for my skill to show," the WHL's fourth-leading scorer last season said of his work ethic on both sides of the puck. "I think I do have a lot of offensive mindset. I did in junior and I want to bring it here too, but my work ethic has got to be there and without that my talent is not going to come."
The NHL path will likely be a little longer for the first-year pro, but he knows that the work he puts in now could ultimately pay off in his quest to make the Blackhawks roster - regardless of when that may be.
"I've gotta play the best that I can," he said. "I want a chance up here, either now or later down the road. I've got to do whatever it takes to have that opportunity and it starts now. That's what I did tonight."
Now that the Chicago is through the opening three-games-in-three-days stretch to open exhibition play, Stan Bowman, Colliton and the staff will begin to whittle down the 55-man roster as the 2019-20 Blackhawks begin to take shape. Over the three games, 45 of the 55 dressed at least once, but now that the schedule lightens up and with just eight days before the team leaves for the season-opening trip to Europe, Training Camp enters an important next phase of decisions.
"We're going to start," Colliton confirmed postgame. "I don't know exactly the timeline and how many on which day, but I can tell you it won't all be on one day and we'll work up to the game on Saturday and we'll have a tighter group, and especially for next week."