Brandon Pirri #37 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates up the ice against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on December 21, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.
(December 20, 2011 - Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Blackhawks prospects prepare for fierce training camp battles


The Chicago Blackhawks are a team known for their depth, but salary cap considerations led to them trading Daniel Carcillo, Michael Frolik, and Dave Bolland since they captured the Stanley Cup. That’s created some opening in Chicago for young forwards and there’s several players that will be vying for those open spots.

One of the prominent ones is 22-year-old Brandon Pirri, who scored 22 goals and a league-leading 75 points in 76 games with the AHL Rockford IceHogs last season.

He only has seven games worth of NHL experience, but the lockout might have worked in his favor because it gave him a chance to play with and against people that would have normally been in the top league.

“It was big to see the way (the NHL players) take things day-to-day at the rink and away from the rink,” said Brandon Pirri, according to CSN Chicago. “It’s where I want to be, so I try taking stuff away from it but also doing what makes me comfortable at the rink. It was fun, but there’s a healthy competition.”

“These guys take care of you, they make sure you’re ready to play at all times,” Jimmy Hayes said, echoing Pirri’s comments about the benefit of locked-out NHLers spending some time in the minors. “They’re always looking out for me and making me feel like a part of the team no matter (if I’m playing in the NHL or AHL).

“It was great to see a lot of those players like (Nick) Leddy and (Marcus) Kruger who’ve got full years under their belt, so it was good to see how to prepare and and learn from them.”

Hayes is another serious contender to win a bottom-six job with Chicago after scoring 25 goals and 45 points in 67 AHL contests last season. He also has six goals and seven assists in 41 career NHL games.

Chicago will be entering the 2013-14 campaign with the same core that just won them the Stanley Cup, but how guys like Pirri and Hayes handle themselves next season could be the difference when a team’s third and fourth lines become critical in the playoffs.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.