The first weekend of training camp is complete, and two things are apparent in the early going: The players thoroughly enjoyed playing in front of a United Center crowd, and Igor Makarov has game.
Besides his obvious skill, there is an instinct to Makarov’s game that makes him stick out. It’s only a couple of scrimmages, but while others are trying to get noticed, he’s already there.
Joel Quenneville reiterated the notion that there are always surprises in camp. It would be a surprise if Makarov makes the team considering this his first year in North America and the way the Hawks roster is situated right now. The Russian native was a second-round pick in 2006.
Quenneville indicated that a young player who makes the team is going to have to play so it’s not just about finding a roster spot but beating out someone for playing time. The likely scenario for most if not all of the prospects that are in camp for the first time is to start in Rockford and take it from there.
Jack Skille’s spot might be the one vulnerable position. No one says he’s a shoe-in although he will get his longest look yet as a Hawk. Fernando Pisani, Jake Dowell, Viktor Stalberg, and Bryan Bickell all are seemingly entrenched along with an extra man in Ryan Potulny, but anyone can be replaced if Makarov or another player shows themselves in the preseason games.
Skill wins over grit most of the time and through two days Makarov has shown he has the skill. Scrimmages are one thing but if the strong play carries over for Makarov, then the Hawks will have a pleasantly, difficult decision to make.
Marian Hossa looks as strong and as fast as ever and Jonathan Toews hasn’t missed a beat since the finals. Those veterans stood out in the opening couple of days as well. Marty Turco is just feeling his way around with his new team so progress with his game is just beginning. And if you’re wondering about the new chemistry on this team, it's too hard to determine just yet. They don’t even all share the same dressing room. With the expanded roster, three rooms are being used.
On defense, the preseason games will determine a lot but it would be an even bigger upset if one of the veterans was bounced in favor of youth. Jordan Hendry, John Scott, and Nick Boynton should all make the roster and then battle for playing time. A case can be made that a young defenseman -- especially after watching them in preseason games -- might deserve a roster position, but even more so than the forwards, that d-man shouldn’t be sitting on the bench. He needs to be playing. That probably won’t happen for the Hawks so it’s to the minors for the Nick Leddy’s of the world.
Salary cap implications will hurt Leddy anyway, along with Kyle Beach, but Makarov’s hit isn’t bad so he has that in his favor as well.
It’s premature to say anything definitive about the roster. Intra-squad scrimmages are one step below exhibition games, but for now that’s all the Hawks brass has to go on.
And the rest of us as well.