CHICAGO -- It was no secret there would be a number of changes to the Chicago Blackhawks roster heading into this season, but a couple of decisions made in the past 48 hours were unexpected.
It started Friday, when 20-year old forward Marko Dano, a key piece in the offseason trade that sent forward Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets, was among the players assigned to Rockford of the American Hockey League.
Around the same time, reports surfaced that Chicago placed veteran forward and three-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Bickell on waivers.
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Bickell, who comes with a $4 million NHL salary-cap charge, wasn't claimed Saturday. He can be sent to Rockford without having to go through waivers any time in the next 30 days, or before he plays in 10 games with the Blackhawks, who plan to keep him to start the season.
"I'm just taking it as an awakening, to set a fire," said Bickell, who will play left wing on the third line at United Center on Saturday in Chicago's final preseason game. "I look at the clock [in the locker room]. It's 11:16 (a.m.), so I'm still here and looking to play tonight, to really show them I can get that game back. I want to be a Blackhawk forever and [it's a] second opportunity."
Bickell's production dipped last season and he didn't have the kind of success in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs he had in the previous two postseasons. Looking to unload his contract, the Blackhawks, near the salary cap, reportedly tried to trade him during the offseason.
"It was a little bit of a shock but ... we always talk about those business calls," Bickell said. "There's always two sides of it. Guys move and players stay and, to be put on [waivers] and clear, it's kind of deflating. But I get some spark here and say I'm still here and looking forward to play tonight and prove myself."
Rookie forward Kyle Baun, who is 6-foot-2, 209 pounds and plays a power game, likely has made the team to start the season. Russian rookie forward Artemi Panarin and Russian veteran forward Viktor Tikhonov also have, after signing with the Blackhawks as free agents from the Kontinental Hockey League.
Panarin, 23, has a lot of skill and plays a game that has drawn loose comparisons to right wing Patrick Kane, who he'll play on a line with Saturday. Tikhonov, a former NHL player who spent the past four seasons in the KHL, is more of a grinder for a role somewhere in the Blackhawks' bottom six forwards.
Each making the team came as a surprise. Panarin, who impressed during the first few days of training camp at Notre Dame, hasn't played in the preseason because of an upper-body injury. Tikhonov, who's been acting as Panarin's main translator, has one assist in three preseason games.
Coach Joel Quenneville was asked if he thinks Panarin is ready to start the season with the Blackhawks.
"We've got to see more," Quenneville said. "Watching him, there's a certain level of skill there and ability. He's fun to watch, so he gets an opportunity. Maybe it wasn't like the other [players in camp], but certainly I think his history, he earned that, and I think that's part of it."
There were reports when Panarin signed that he might consider playing in the KHL if he did not make the Blackhawks out of training camp, but Quenneville said he hasn't broached that topic.
"I just know that, I think a number of teams were in the mix of trying to sign him," Quenneville said. "I know that he was highly recruited and highly sought. We were very happy at the time, and then watching him play [at Notre Dame and in practice], we're still happy and excited."
Quenneville said something similar about Dano, who is expected to contribute to the Blackhawks at some point this season. Dano started training camp at left wing on the top line, playing with captain Jonathan Toews and right wing Marian Hossa.
He led the Blackhawks with three goals at Notre Dame, and Quenneville said it must've felt like hitting the lottery for Dano. Now, a few weeks later, without a goal in a preseason game, he will await his next opportunity in the AHL.
"I think the one thing is, he's a young kid," Quenneville said. "I don't think we want to give anybody any opportunities. You have to earn it. I'm sure we'll get a chance to see him play [and] evaluate his game. He can get on track with how we play, and we think eventually he'll find a way to be here and then we'll work from there. But certainly I don't think anybody's given a job in the summer, and it's up to each individual to prove that they can get there."
That also goes for Bickell, whose future in Chicago remains cloudy. Aside from being a motivational ploy, being placed on waivers might've been a way for the Blackhawks to gauge potential trade interest.
"Whatever reasons they are (behind it), you're exposed if anyone needs that kind of player," Quenneville said. "Whether that's part of it or not, I'm not sure. I think for our own needs, there are business moves that we have to make, and part of it's hockey as well. We'll interpret the hockey part down here and go from there. He's going to start here. He's here and we want him to be a part of it, and he's going to get the opportunity."