Vancouver Canucks v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Four

Blackhawks hope that Dave Bolland can produce his best (and healthiest) regular season yet

Stanley Cup champions often have their fair share of unsung heroes and Dave Bolland qualified as one during the Chicago Blackhawks’ impressive 2010 championship run. Bolland hounded top forwards such as Joe Thornton and the Sedin twins while scoring an impressive 16 points in 22 games during the 2010 playoffs, including two big shorthanded goals. He didn’t get Conn Smythe hype, but Bolland did the dirty work to open things up for Chicago’s stars to dominate on the game’s biggest stages.

It seemed like a “coming out party” for the defensive center, but injuries keep stopping him from showing his true value over the long haul. Off-season back surgery limited him just to 37 games during the 2009-10 regular season while concussions issues kept him out for months last season, even forcing him to miss the first three games of Chicago’s up-and-down series with the Vancouver Canucks.

While it’s probably a bit much to attribute the Blackhawks’ near-come back from a 3-0 series deficit to the return of Bolland, he made an undeniable impact from Game 4 and on, tallying six points in four games as the Hawks fell just short of an incredible comeback.

Some might wonder if Bolland simply saves his best for the biggest games, but the fact of the matter is that Blackhawks have only enjoyed one true regular season with the two-way center (a 19-goal, 47-point output in 81 games in 08-09). Bolland and the Blackhawks hope that next season is healthy, breakout campaign for Bolland – and he’s certainly putting in the work to make that happen.

Bolland’s return in Game 4 sparked an impressive comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 – which the Hawks lost in overtime on a goal by the Canucks’ Alexandre Burrows. It was just enough of a taste to keep Bolland hungry all summer for the upcoming season, which will start with training camp in about three weeks.

“That was probably the worst sports injury I’ve ever had, because some guys say it’s a week or two weeks (out) … and the next thing you know I’m out for a month or a month-and-a-half and we’re in the playoffs,” Bolland said before playing in the recent Blackhawks Alumni Golf Outing at Medinah Country Club. “It was something that really dragged on. For me, going into the season it is motivation after coming out of the Vancouver series and losing. I got a strong series with them and coming into this season will be great.”

Preliminary indications are that he’ll be slotted in a third line, checking center type role. Bolland’s solid defensive play, agitating style and occasionally offensive outbursts make him ideal for that job.

It’s expected that he’ll fall behind Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp down the middle, but Joel Quenneville is known for at least two things: singing poorly and mixing up his line combinations on the fly. Bolland might not be ideal as the second center, but there might be times when he’s placed in that spot.

Wherever he shows up, the Blackhawks just hope that he’ll be healthy enough to be out there – which isn’t a guarantee considering his troubles during the last two seasons. Ultimately, the Blackhawks’ goal of rising back to elite contender status might hinge on the health and performances of Bolland and other lesser known contributors.

‘I’ve got to be more aware’ on the ice, says Ekblad after recent injury

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Aaron Ekblad #5  of the Florida Panthers leaves the ice following warmups prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As per multiple reports, Aaron Ekblad practiced with his Florida Panthers teammates Thursday.

Good news. That marks another step in the progress he’s made from a neck injury — initially reported to be a concussion — suffered on a hit from Leo Komarov that ultimately ended the defenseman’s experience for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey.

On Thursday, Ekblad told reporters the injury was actually whiplash.

The 20-year-old Ekblad has had a history of concussions, including one from a Hockey Canada camp in August, 2014 — almost two full months after the Panthers selected him first overall.

He was injured again in January of last season when Matt Hendricks caught him with a dangerous hit against the end boards, resulting in a suspension for Hendricks.

Despite supplemental discipline from the league on that specific incident involving Hendricks, Ekblad, a valuable part of a young Panthers team that has increased expectations surrounding it, put the onus on himself to be more aware on the ice.

“When I think about it in the Edmonton game last year, there were a couple of big hits on their guys. I should have expected to someone was going to come after me,” Ekblad told NHL.com.

“Obviously you don’t think that. You think there’s a little bit more respect among players out there. I turned, I saw him. I didn’t think he was going to drive my head into the glass. The Komarov hit there, he got me on the shoulder, not much on the head or anything like that. It was more of the whiplash effect. Again, I’ve got to be more aware. You train your body, you train your brain to do that kind of thing. I do a lot of eye exercises and stuff like that. We’re working on that right now and just trying to be a better hockey player that way.”

The Panthers have a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. Ekblad is not in the lineup.

Stars sign WHL d-man Vala to entry-level deal

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The Dallas Stars have added another defenseman to their group of prospects.

On Thursday, the club signed 18-year-old Czech blue liner Ondrej Vala to a three-year entry-level contract. Vala is currently playing for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. He had four goals and 21 points in 72 games last season — his first with the Blazers.

Having represented the Czech Republic at U-17 and U-18 international events and played for the Stars prospects team at the Traverse City Tournament, Vala is also listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 209 pounds.

He certainly brings size on the blue line, which is a quality the Stars appear to value in him.

“Ondrej has shown a combination of size and physicality along with the ability to play a defensively responsible game at the junior hockey level,” said Stars GM Jim Nill in a statement.

Related:

Another — yes, another — blow for Dallas as Janmark spotted on crutches

Capitals send first-round pick Johansen back to junior

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Lucas Johansen poses for a portrait after being selected 28th overall by the Washington Capitals in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have sent prospect defenseman Lucas Johansen, selected 28th overall in this year’s NHL Draft, back to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

From the Kelowna Capital News:

The Kelowna Rockets have yet to play a regular season game with a full lineup.

That will change this weekend in Prince George when defenceman Lucas Johansen and forward Calvin Thurkauf rejoin their WHL club for a two-game set against the Cougars.

Johansen, a first-round NHL draft pick this summer, is back from the camp of the Washington Capitals, while Thurkauf returns from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Capitals confirmed the news via Twitter.

Johansen, the younger brother of NHL center Ryan Johansen, appeared in Monday’s exhibition game for the Capitals, apparently leaving a positive impression on the coaching staff.

Still, Johansen doesn’t turn 19 years old until the middle of November. He also has some growing left to do at six-foot-one-inch tall and just 174 pounds, so sending him back to junior is the logical step.

“For a first game, to have that kind of poise playing defense, you don’t see it very often,” Capitals’ associate coach Todd Reirden told the Washington Post.

“So, it’s fun to watch, how he goes about the game. Certainly, I think it’s helped growing up in the family that he has and being around some of the players he’s practiced with. I think he has some special tools, in terms of his ability to slow down the play and see some things that other players don’t. He’s looking like an outstanding draft pick for us and a real great prospect moving forward.”

Shaw suspended three preseason games for boarding Connor Hobbs

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 02:  Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks during Media Day for the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 2, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League has suspended Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw for three preseason games for boarding defenseman Connor Hobbs of the Washington Capitals in an exhibition game Tuesday.

The Habs have five more exhibition games remaining before the regular season begins Oct. 13.

Shaw was given a major penalty and a game misconduct on the play, as he slammed Hobbs “through the numbers, with speed” from behind into the end glass, as per Thursday’s video from the NHL outlining the suspension.

From the video: “It is important to note that Hobbs is never eligible to be checked by Shaw on this play. From the moment Shaw arrives at the faceoff dot, he sees nothing but Hobbs’ numbers. Hobbs makes no sudden movement just prior to contact that turns this hit from a legal hit into an illegal one.

“The onus is on Shaw to ensure that he can deliver this hit in a legal fashion, minimize the force, or avoid this hit completely. Instead, he hits forcefully through Hobbs from behind, driving him dangerously into the glass.”

In a bid to land a gritty forward to their lineup, the Habs acquired Shaw from the Blackhawks, who had been dealing with a cap crunch, during the NHL Draft. He later signed a six-year contract extension with Montreal.