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Duncan Keith 'ready to roll' for Blackhawks

Defenseman sharp in preseason debut after right-knee issue

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Blackhawks needed any reassurance about defenseman Duncan Keith's right knee, they got it at United Center on Tuesday.

It didn't take long in Chicago's 6-1 preseason win against the Detroit Red Wings to see that Keith, and his knee, are ready for the NHL regular season. After missing the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and four preseason games because of discomfort in his surgically repaired knee, the two-time Norris Trophy winner looked nearly up to full speed.

"I'm ready to roll," said Keith, who expects to play in the season opener against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 12. "I had lots of energy before the game, and [it had] been a while since I played last. So I was excited to get back out there and get in front of the crowd again and play in a real game."

Keith withdrew from Team Canada on Aug. 24, citing lingering issues in his knee that stemmed from surgery Oct. 30 to repair a torn meniscus. Tuesday was his first live action since April 25, when the Blackhawks lost to the Blues in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round.

Video: DET@CHI: Hartman opens the scoring on his backhand

If there was any accumulated rust, it was hard to tell. Paired with Trevor van Riemsdyk, Keith played 19:41, was on the ice for three of the Blackhawks' goals, assisted on two, and played on both special teams.

Keith's skating, a staple of his game, was fluid. He moved freely around the ice, with speed, and said the knee didn't bother him at all.

"It feels good," the 33-year-old said. "I think it was a good test getting back in a game situation, so I was happy with it. There's always going to be plays and things that you maybe want back in certain situations, but we all make mistakes and there's nothing there that's going to be stemming from my knee or whatever. It feels good, and I think it's going to be good going forward."

The plays that led to his assists were the biggest indicators he's not hindered.

The first, which resulted in a primary assist, was off Keith's slap shot from the left point that left a rebound for Ryan Hartman in the first period. The second, scored by rookie Nick Schmaltz in the second, was a classic Keith play.

After reaching out his stick to knock down the puck, negating a Red Wings clearing attempt, Keith settled it and fed Artemi Panarin for a one-timer. Schmaltz tipped the puck past goalie Jimmy Howard.

"That's a great play," Chicago rookie forward Vincent Hinostroza said. "Knock the puck out of midair, pass it to Panarin. You're not really amazed when he makes plays like that, because he does it so much. He's definitely a special player."

Video: DET@CHI: Schmaltz tips Panarin's shot past Howard

It was the kind of individual effort the Blackhawks have gotten from Keith for years. His ability to hold the puck in the offensive zone is a key component of Chicago's attack at even strength and during power plays.

It took one preseason game to see he's still razor sharp in those areas, along with most other facets of his game. Having him ready to roll for the start of the season is a big relief for the Blackhawks.

"It was a really good addition with him helping everybody manage about the same kind of ice time, and [we] really defended well," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "The fact that he played today was a big step, and how he handled it was encouraging as well."

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