It's called a developmental prospects camp, but the way the Chicago Blackhawks
are opening NHL roster spots this offseason the camp that started on Friday just down the street from United Center could double as a reality TV show.
Not one of those cheesy, boring ones either.
Just two scrimmage sessions into the camp and there's already been one scrap involving top forward prospect Kyle Beach
, two highly-regarded brothers (Jimmy Hayes
and Kevin Hayes
) playing on the same line and even a player checked over the boards into the bench.
That hit was delivered by a kid named Mitch Versteeg
, who is former Hawks forward Kris Versteeg
's younger brother. Mitch Versteeg
is a free agent invite to the camp, and unlike his cut-up brother, his only "rap" of the day came when he blasted 6-2, 201-pound Andy Bohmbach with a clean check in the second scrimmage.
And what reality show would be complete without inner turmoil?
Leave it to Beach and 6-2, 200-pound free agent John Kurtz
for that aspect. Kurtz hopped onto the ice in the second scrimmage and invited the 6-3, 210-pound Beach to tango. Beach accepted, the gloves came off and both combatants got some good shots in against each other.
Making it even stranger is that Kurtz is Beach's roommate for the camp.
"It was just a situation where he asked me," said Beach, the Hawks' top pick (No. 10) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "Guys are going to try and make a name for themselves. They all want to do it, and I'll give 'em the opportunity."
At the very least, it was a big hit among a good number of Hawks fans who showed up to watch the workouts.
Beach has a bigger fight on his mind, though. He and several other Hawks prospects can sense their window of opportunity to break into the League opening with all the recent moves GM Stan Bowman has executed to get under the salary cap.
Beach, 20, has a solid shot at making the Hawks out of training camp after playing most of last season in the WHL with Spokane. After scoring 52 goals there, he came to Rockford for the end of the regular season and the AHL playoffs. He was then called up to experience the Hawks' Stanley Cup title run as a practice player.
After the Hawks dealt key forwards Dustin Byfuglien
, Andrew Ladd
and Kris Versteeg
, the dominoes are starting to stack up well for Beach. Still, he knows what he needs to show Bowman and Hawks coaches at this camp and in September.
"If I'm going to make this team this year, I'm going to have to (fight)," he said. "I wasn't looking to fight (today). He came on and asked me, and I'm not going to turn it down. That's what I'm going to have to do. I'm going to have to be able to fight everybody."
He'll also need to flash his deft scoring ability if he wants to win the Hawks' reality TV show -- which also became more intriguing during Friday's first scrimmage. That's when it was reported that San Jose signed young Hawks D-man Niklas Hjalmarsson
, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet good for four years and $14 million.
Hjalmarsson just concluded his first full season in the NHL, yet will stand to make at least $3.5 million a season after making $666,000 this past season -- according to capgeek.com figures. The Hawks now have seven days to match the Sharks' offer or let Hjalmarsson -- a guy Bowman recently vowed would be re-signed -- find the way to San Jose.
Then there are the Hawks' top defense prospects, such as 20-year old Shawn Lalonde
, who played in the second scrimmage on Friday. Like Beach, Lalonde's name has been put out there by Bowman as a potential addition to the Hawks' roster.
This prospect camp and training camp will be his proving grounds.
"It starts now," said the 6-1, 195-pound Lalonde, taken by the Hawks in the third round (No. 68) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "They've made some moves, and for me it's big. I need a big summer. Personally, I think I'm almost there."
Like Beach, Lalonde was with the Hawks as a practice reserve during the Cup run. They witnessed it all firsthand -- right through the parade. Both said it would inspire them get over the final hurdle to playing in the League.
"If I'm going to make this team this year, I'm going to have to (fight). I wasn't looking to fight (today). (John Kurtz
) came on and asked me, and I'm not going to turn it down. That's what I'm going to have to do. I'm going to have to be able to fight everybody." -- Kyle Beach
"That was an experience I wouldn't want to trade for anything," Beach said. "It was a chance of a lifetime, and now I want to do it … and be on the ice for it."
Likewise for Lalonde.
"It just makes you want to be part of it even more," he said. "The first couple of years at rookie camp were eye openers for me. Now I'm trying to impress 'em and make a spot for myself on the Chicago Blackhawks
It's certainly a great time to be a top prospect for the Hawks, who will be giving their prospects serious looks to see if they're ready or not. Bowman was in attendance at the morning session, but wasn't made available to speak, about either the prospects or the Hjalmarsson situation.
Still, the guys wearing the Indian head logo on their sweaters knew he was watching. It's very much like a reality show, and should be interesting to see who gets to stay.
"Everybody knows there's spots (open)," Beach said. "I could list off five to 10 guys who want those spots and who I think could easily get those spots … everybody's going to come to camp wanting to kill the other guy and take that spot."
This time, he plans on being one of the hunters.
"I'm 20 years old now," Beach said. "I have more expectations. The fun and games are over. This isn't junior anymore. Of course it's fun, but it's a job now. This is how you make your living and that's how I want to make my living."