Blackhawks come into season older

By Roland Hacker

This season was supposed to be a step in the right direction for the Chicago Blackhawks as they tried to get younger, faster and improve their skill level.

After how the offseason and preseason unfolded, that may not be the case.

Instead of letting his young, skilled players make a push to make the roster, General Manager Stan Bowman decided to sign past-his-prime 39-year-old left winger Chris Kunitz, 34-year-old goalie Cam Ward and clumsy 28-year-old defenseman Brandon Manning.

Forwards Victor Ejdsell, Dylan Sikura and Alexandre Fortin would have been great fits in the spot Kunitz occupies.

Ejdsell is a 6 feet 5 inch tall left winger with a nasty shot, capable of being a perennial 20-goal scorer. He goes to the slot where he lets loose a wicked wrist shot and uses his size to bull to the front of the net.

Sikura is described as “highly skilled two-way forward” by the Dobber Prospects website. He has slick play-making skills and is responsible on his end of the ice.

Fortin has impressed every training camp since being signed by the Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He captures attention on the ice with his speed and ability to make things happen. He’s great at entries in the offensive zone because defenders have to back off to respect his speed.

The Blackhawks signed Ward as insurance in case starting goalie Corey Crawford doesn’t recover from his head injury in time to start the season. Unfortunately, the Hawks decided to give Ward a no-move clause in his contract, preventing them from having an out when Crawford returns. The Blackhawks will be forced to carry three goalies on their active roster or risk losing goalie Anton Forsberg to waiver claim and receive no compensation as a result.

Manning is a physical defenseman coming off a strong year with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he is likely a third-pairing defenseman at best. The Blackhawks defensive deficiencies from last season won’t be cured by adding Manning, like they might have been if Adam Boqvist had made the team.

If all the promising youngsters made the team, there would be learning curves and rookie mistakes, but there would at least a chance of the Blackhawks improving. With the roster hitting the ice Thursday, there is a definite ceiling attached, and it’s low.