CHICAGO (AP) Patrick Kane flashed a million-dollar smile in the photo opp, beaming from behind a table topped by the troika of hefty awards he skated off with to cap a sublime season.
Chicago’s 27-year-old star forward broke away with the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP, the Art Ross as the leading scorer and the Ted Lindsay Award, given to the NHL’s outstanding player by fellow skaters.
Missing conspicuously from silverware haul on the opening day of the Blackhawks’ annual fan convention was the Stanley Cup, the championship Chicago failed to defend last spring after winning it in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
Despite a first-round, seven-game playoff exit against St. Louis last April, the Blackhawks say they’re ready for another run at the Cup with a revised, younger roster. The NHL’s salary cap, set at $73 million for next season, once again forced GM Stan Bowman to trim key players, most notably forwards Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen.
Bowman thinks his kids, and team, will be all right. He expects top prospects, who skated in a camp in Chicago this week, to jump in and fill in several spots, especially at forward alongside stars such as Kane, Jonathan Toews and Artemi Panarin, last year’s Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year.
No worries for coach Joel Quenneville, either.
“I’m very comfortable with it,” Quenneville said. “I see more depth on our team. I see more speed on our team.”
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Bowman said the prospect camp, which ended on Friday, was “the best we’ve had in terms of the caliber of player and level of play.”
The GM called out forwards Tanner Kero, Vincent Hinostroza and Ryan Hartman, who have played just a handful of NHL games, as “exceptional.”
“They’ve taken their game to another level,” Bowman said. “You can put Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz in there.”
Motte and Schmaltz, collegiate scoring stars last season, signed contracts with the Blackhawks last spring and left Michigan and North Dakota early. Schmaltz, a sophomore with the NCAA champ Fighting Hawks, said he sensed a real chance.
“I think I’m at the point in my game where I’m confident and ready to take this jump and do everything to make the NHL next year,” said the rangy 20-year-old center.
“I think there’s a good feeling all around in that there’s opportunity that might not have been there in the past,” said Hartman, a 21-year-old right wing. “It’s kind of a good time to be here. All of the prospects are the same boat, trying to earn a spot.”
Bowman insists he isn’t handing anything out.
“I think it’s dangerous to try to label guys to fill a role,” he said. “One thing I told all those guys, I’m not sure which of you is going to make the team, but don’t make that decision easy for us.”
Things are clearer on defense, where lack of depth hurt Chicago last season. Bowman signed free agent Brian Campbell to a bargain $2 million, one-year deal earlier this month to eat up minutes alongside Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Campbell is 37, but the mobile defenseman led Florida last season with 22:16 of ice time per game and a plus-31. A member of Chicago’s 2010 Cup team, Campbell says he “feels great” and has “plenty left in the tank.”
“He’s getting better with age and I’m excited about what he brings to our team,” Quenneville said. “I think in the last couple of years, he’s taken his game to a new level.”
Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, 24, did the same last season, staying healthy and playing all 82 games with the Blackhawks. Chicago also added 25-year-old Czech free agent Michal Kempny over the summer. Journeyman Michal Rozsival is back and Bowman has been impressed with 20 year-old Swede Gustav Forsling and 22-year-old Finn Ville Pokka.
Regardless of who makes their team and where they finish, the Blackhawks will be a lot younger.
“It looks like we have some really good young talent that can come in and and step in right away,” Kane said. “I think that’s something that’s going to be big for us.”
Notes: Marian Hossa, 37, had only 13 goals last season, but said he’s ready for whatever role Quenneville gives him. Hossa, who has 499 career goals, also is looking forward to skating for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey this September. “I’m sure the tempo is going to be so high, so when you come to training camp you’re just going to feel like you’re playing in a pickup league or something,” he said.