Looking to make the leap: Jeremy Morin

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After spending the better part of four seasons riding the bus in the American Hockey League, Jeremy Morin will have every opportunity to be a regular with the Blackhawks in 2014-15.

Speaking to reporters at the NHL Draft in June, GM Stan Bowman said he expects Morin to make the leap to the NHL much like Ben Smith did last season.

Entering training camp, there are opportunities for budding prospects on both the right side of Chicago’s third line and the left side of the team’s fourth line.

Morin could slot in on either, and at a drastically smaller cap hit ($800,000) than say a Kris Versteeg ($2.2 million), Morin could win out in the numbers game as Chicago currently sits more than $2 million over the salary cap, per CapGeek.

The Blackhawks re-signed the left-winger to a new two-year, $1.6 million deal on June 27 following a 2013-14 campaign which saw him produce at a point-a-game pace (24 goals and 47 points in 47 games) in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs.

Morin also appeared in 24 regular season games for Chicago scoring five goals and 11 points, in part, while Bryan Bickell was sidelined with a knee injury. The 23-year-old appeared in two playoff games for the Blackhawks where he was held pointless.

“He’s been patient with us. Sometimes I know it’s tough to spend a couple years in the minors when you’re an NHL-ready player,” Bowman said. “Give him credit, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to. The only thing that was missing, was an opportunity. Now we’re giving him that opportunity, he’s going to be on the team.

“He’s hungry, he wants to prove what he can do, and he’s going to get the chance.”

The former second-round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers (45th overall in 2009), Morin was acquired by the Blackhawks on June 24, 2010 as Chicago, fresh off its first Stanley Cup win since 1961, was in salary dump mode.

Chicago sent Akim Aliu, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel to Atlanta in exchange for Morin, the Thrashers’ first round (Kevin Hayes) and second round (Justin Holl) picks in 2010, which were acquired in a previous trade from the New Jersey Devils, as well as Marty Reasoner and Joey Crabb

Billed as a creative goal-scorer, Morin doesn’t shy away from the physical game. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound, Morin has 12 career AHL fights according to hockeyfights.com and racked up 121 penalty minutes during the 2011-12 season with the IceHogs.

Given that Chicago’s top six is all but set in stone, Morin won’t necessarily be relied on for his goal-scoring prowess. In order for him to stick with the big club this season, he will have to show his gritty, physical side in addition to his soft hands.

Related: Under Pressure: Brad Richards

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.