By Chris Block
The full AHL regular season schedule is supposed to drop on Tuesday. It was finalized Monday. This is the latest I can recall the American Hockey League taking to get its schedule done. The reason it took until the last week of August (less than six weeks prior to Opening night) this time around is because the NBA schedule wasn’t completed just a couple of weeks ago, in mid-August. AHL franchises, Lake Erie (Cleveland), Charlotte, San Antonio and Oklahoma City share buildings with NBA teams and the AHL couldn’t lock in those teams’ home dates until the NBA finalized its schedule.
Impression I get is a roster spot is essentially Teuvo Teravainen’s to take in training camp. If he’s ready, the Blackhawks will not hold him back for any reason. However, if he’s still hesitant, over-thinking or a bit over-matched physically (these things will all come around, no one is doubting that) in half or more of his preseason appearances, there would be no hesitation to give Teravainen a month, two or however long it may take in Rockford.
In other words, where Teuvo winds up will entirely be determined by how he performs in exhibition games. There’s obviously some work left to be done in terms of getting the Hawks under the upper salary cap limit, but that issue itself shouldn’t affect his status.
No matter what they say, the Hawks absolutely did hold Teravainen back when they brought him over from Finland at the end of last season. They had no desire to burn the first year of Teravainen’s entry level deal in a year when the organization itself wasn’t confident they had the best team in the Western Conference.
This year is different. The Hawks appear poised to win their third Cup in six seasons. I consider them the favorites, and barring excessive injury problems, I expect the Hawks to be the last team standing come spring.
2015-16 will be a transition season while the Blackhawks retool the roster and new young players come into the fold. The organization should return to true championship contender status in 2017, the final year of Teravainen’s entry-level deal. That’s maximizing value when you’re a perpetual upper limit team in a salary cap world.
The Hawks look at Teravainen differently than they did Brandon Pirri at this time last year. Pirri was coming off a season in which he led the AHL in scoring and had proven he was at least offensively ready to make the next step. Pirri, as well, was the only center ice prospect in the system at that time who was a realistic candidate to fill the Hawks’ void at second line center. But internally the Hawks always had their doubts about Pirri’s skating, toughness and other intangibles.
No one here is doubting Teravainen. Where Teuvo’s ultimate ceiling raises to is a matter of debate, but he will be a solid NHL’er as long as he’s not rushed into the league before he’s physically ready to handle 100-plus games, if that is still indeed the case.
And the 100-plus game grind is the key issue. They have to determine that if Teuvo is the type of player who is going to get hit every night (he’s not quite Marcus Kruger, but he’s not Patrick Kane either), is his body ready for that over the long haul? Looking good and standing up through a few weeks, or two months of the NHL grind and doing it over eight long months are two completely different animals.
Last week at an NHL media event, Teuvo claimed his body weight is up to 180. If his listed weight was correct last season (and that’s a big ‘if’ when it comes to a lot of players) that would indicate Teravainen has put on 11 pounds since April. Building 11 pounds of pure muscle in four months is plausible for someone Teuvo’s age (he turns 20 on September 11th) but still a little difficult to believe unless he’d never seen a weight room before this off season.
Where Stan Bowman’s decisions get tricky more centers around Jeremy Morin. Morin blew his opportunity to earn a spot out of training camp last year, and another mediocre training camp would likely get Morin launched from the organization. Since Morin’s unlikely to clear waivers, Stan would look to deal Morin. That may or may not be easy to do and get an acceptable return in going that route. Given that Stan has lost two decent prospects in less than eleven months and seen nothing in return, he can’t just give Morin away.
There’s also the possibility that Morin could “make” the team and take up a roster spot until either an injury opens up another opportunity for Morin. Or, he sits in the press box until Stan finds the right deal. This scenario potentially could impact Teravainen. Morin could also go in a package that gets the Hawks under the cap prior to the season opener. All of this will play itself out in September as this has shaped up to be the most interesting training camp the Blackhawks have had in a long time.
In former Blackhawk property signing news….
Kyle Beach has gone back to Europe, after not being tendered a qualifying offer by the New York Rangers.
Beach has signed with the Salzburg Red Bulls in Austria.
I haven’t seen this reported anywhere (it may have been) but Beach’s contract is on a try-out only basis. Beach’s preliminary deal with Salzburg expires at the end of September, per the team.
Also on that Red Bull team are Brett Sterling, Ryan Duncan (Jonathan Toews’ teammate at North Dakota), Ben Walter and former Rockford IceHogs defenseman, and Glenview native, Brian Fahey.
There is one other import player on a try-out deal with Salzburg at the moment – forward Kristoff Kontos, 20, who most recently completed his junior career and got into 7 games with the Toledo Walleye this past spring.
Annual late summer Sweden Mini-Camp
Eight Blackhawks prospects and a few veterans completed a week-long mini-camp in Sweden last week. I don’t have a confirmed full list of the players who did attend. Phillip Danault and Matt Carey were there, as were several players who live over there.
Barry Smith and Mats Hallin ran the mini-camp at the AZA Sports Center in Sodertalje from August 17 – 22.
—Stephen Johns moved to Chicago in mid-July after prospect camp. I wouldn’t read anything into it. He’s been buddying around with Ryan Hartman. Neither attended the camp over in Sweden.
–I would be very surprised if Ryan Hartman wound up returning to his junior team. The preliminary idea going into the fall is for Hartman to skate on Phillip Danault’s right wing in Rockford.
–There’s somewhat of a Rockford IceHog reunion going on in Croatia.
Martin St. Pierre joins another one-time IceHogs team captain, Brandon Segal, along with other former Rockford team members, Pascal Pelletier and Mike Hedden – all four have signed on to skate for Medvescak Zagreb in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
The Chicago area connection doesn’t end there. Former Chicago Wolves stars, Darren Haydar and Jason Krog are playing for the Zagreb, Croatia KHL team this season as well. Evanston native, Andrew Hutchinson will patrol the blue line for the squad as well. AHL vets Bill Thomas and Shawn Belle are also on the team. Former Abbotsford Heat goalie Barry Brust is one of the team’s netminders.
—Keith Seabrook, 26, younger brother to future Philadelphia Flyers defenseman, Brent, has come out of retirement. Keith Seabrook signed an AHL/ECHL deal with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last week, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders. Seabrook figures to spend this season skating for the Stockton Thunder (ECHL).
—Kenndal McArdle has retired. The 27-year old was set to play this season for the Malmo Redhawks in Sweden, but backed out of that deal in late July when he took a job with an investment firm in Vancouver.
McArdle joined the Rockford IceHogs for the second half of the 2012-13 season after the NHL lockout was settled. McArdle gave Rockford a nice shot in the arm with his energetic, north-south style. Though, over time, McArdle losing his composure on the ice did the Hogs more harm than good. He played for Vasteras last year. Both Malmo and Vasteras compete in Sweden’s second tier professional hockey leagues.