The Chicago Blackhawks were the 31st and final NHL club to release their training camp roster on Monday, doing so after the team had already hit the ice at Fifth Third Arena in Chicago for their first day of practice.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) January 4, 2021
Defenseman Brent Seabrook and forwards Carl Soderberg and Zack Smith were the three notable absentees from the Blackhawks’ camp roster. Seabrook, along with prospect Evan Barratt, has been deemed “unfit to participate” at the start of camp, and Soderberg is currently dealing with immigration issues.
Smith, however, was placed on waivers by the Blackhawks on Monday morning, per TSN’s Elliotte Friedman. Smith, 32, can now be claimed by any of the other 30 NHL teams in the next 24 hours. If the veteran forward is not claimed, then he will be assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
Smith was acquired by the Blackhawks during the summer of 2019 from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for center Artem Anisimov. In 50 regular-season games for the Hawks last year, Smith tallied 11 points (four goals, seven assists) before undergoing season-ending back surgery.
Zack Smith (CHI) and Marko Dano (WIN) on waivers. Prow clears.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 4, 2021
Another Forward Spot Available
As expected, the Blackhawks had no shortage of prospects on their training camp roster. At forward, center Philipp Kurashev is looking to make an impact during camp to try and crack the opening night lineup, which is certainly possible with Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach out going forward. With Smith now out of the picture as well, another spot has opened up in the bottom six for the likes of Kurashev, Brandon Hagel, MacKenzie Entwistle, and Matej Chalupa, among other prospects.
The Blackhawks also have a couple of veterans in camp that are fighting for an NHL opportunity. Brandon Pirri and John Quenneville were named to the roster on Monday, and both players are desperately trying to get their respected careers back on track before it’s too late. But with 2021 already looking like a wash in terms of wins and losses, the Hawks may ultimately decide to give their up-and-coming prospects the first look.
Defensive Pairings Take Shape
On defense, all eyes are on Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell in camp. Boqvist made the jump to the NHL a year before anyone anticipated, and the former eighth overall pick churned out a solid first professional campaign as a teenager in 2019-20. Mitchell has spent the last three years tearing it up for Denver University, and he is now widely considered as the top prospect in the Blackhawks’ system.
With over 40 players invited to training camp, the Blackhawks split into two groups for their first day of practice. Other than Duncan Keith and Connor Murphy, all of the Hawks NHL-caliber defensemen skated with the first group, which allowed the defensive pairings to begin to take shape.
Boqvist skated with the big-bodied Nikita Zadorov on Monday, while Mitchell was paired with Calvin de Haan. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman spoke this offseason about his desire to pair Zadorov with either Boqvist or Mitchell in 2021, and that preference was evident on the opening day of camp.
Of course, take these defensive pairings with a grain of salt, but the Blackhawks have now established a baseline on the backend for the 2021 regular season. Although, once Brent Seabrook is back in the mix, the Blackhawks’ defense will get a bit more crowded and confusing.
So Many Questions
The first day of Blackhawks training camp only added fuel to the fire in terms of storylines heading into the year.
Will Smith clear waivers? Does this transaction mean the Blackhawks will give their prospects NHL playing time at the start of the season? And who will take Smith’s spot on the roster?
Where does Seabrook fit in on defense once he is cleared to participate in training camp? Will he accept a seventh defenseman role, or does he expect to be in the lineup on a nightly basis?
Will Boqvist play with Zadorov on opening night? Do Boqvist AND Mitchell get in the lineup? What about Lucas Carlsson, Wyatt Kalynuk, and Nicolas Beaudin?
When will Soderberg join the Blackhawks at training camp? Will he skate on a line with Patrick Kane?
All of these questions will be answered over the next nine days as the Blackhawks prepare for their season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning.