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Sunday, October 3, 2010
Who can fill in for Brian Campbell?

By Jesse Rogers

Brian Campbell
An injury to Brian Campbell leaves the Blackhawks looking for a replacement on defense.
The Chicago Blackhawks will start the regular season the way they ended the last one: without Brian Campbell.

A knee injury will keep him sidelined at least a month, while thrusting someone else into a prime role as a top four defenseman.

In either a criticism of the Hawks’ depth (after their top four) at that position, or a nod to his talents, 19-year-old Nick Leddy might be the best candidate for the job. He’s a puck-moving guy that should feel comfortable with the steady Niklas Hjalmarsson, or if coach Joel Quenneville elects, Brent Seabrook or Duncan Keith.

It was always in Leddy’s best interests to play with a top-four guy, or go to the minors and get the full-scale learning experience. Now, there’s less of a choice in that decision. Nothing says he’ll finish the game the way he starts it but the opportunity is there for his taking.

Unless Quenneville breaks up his top pair -- which he did for a stretch last season -- the other candidate to move up on defense is Jordan Hendry. Like Leddy and Campbell, he can skate, but is he ready for prime time against some of the other top lines in the league? The same question could be asked of Leddy, but maybe the unknown is better than the known at this point.

In any case, replacing Campbell won’t be easy. There are few in the league who can move the way he does. When he was lost last season, you didn’t need statistics to confirm what the eye saw: the Hawks weren’t the same type of puck-moving team they were when he was in the lineup. They did recover in time to finish strong, but coincidence or not, it wasn’t until he returned in the playoffs that the Hawks took off.

Campbell came back early from his shoulder injury last postseason, but you wouldn’t expect the same from him with a knee injury at the beginning of an 82-game grind. That means his replacement or replacements will get plenty of work. Are they up for it?

Quenneville will get a one-game head start on figuring things out on Sunday as the Hawks close out the preseason against the St. Louis Blues. Maybe he should give all his bottom-end defensemen a few shifts with Hjalmarsson and see if there is something there.

It’s not the way to start a title defense, but injuries are part of the game and now the first major trade Stan Bowman made as general manager might bear some fruit. Who thought it would be Leddy instead of Kim Johnsson that could be a difference-maker this quickly when Cam Barker was traded for the two of them last year?

Between Leddy and Jeremy Morin, the Hawks future is making a stop in the present. In the case of the defense, it’s out of necessity, but maybe they belong here anyway. We’ll find out soon enough.