The preseason officially kicks off for the Hawks tonight as they play at Columbus tonight at 6 Central. Don’t expect to see as many familiar faces as the team decided to not send any stars (including Alex DeBrincat). They appear to be trying to protect the players expected to make the team, which is a good sign of DeBrincat, in the first preseason game. While most stars are not going to be in the game, you will get to see some younger talent shine with Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza, Gustav Forsling, Jan Rutta playing his first American game, and first round draft pick Henri Jokiharju in the game. You should expect to see Anton Forsberg get the start in net. A few familiar faces could be seen on Columbus’ roster with Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte expected to play.
To prep for this first game, the prospects recently travelled to Traverse City, Michigan to play in a tournament against 7 other teams (Detroit, Carolina, New York Rangers, Columbus, Minnesota, Dallas and St. Louis). The tournament has 3 round robin games against their division, with the rankings determining who plays for the championship, third place, fifth place and seventh place. After dropping the first game to New York 3-2, the team really picked it up to win 4-3 against Detroit and 9-2 against Carolina. The last game sealed their spot in the championship game against Columbus, whom they beat 3-2 in overtime. The star of the tournament for the Hawks was Alex DeBrincat, a rookie looking to make the jump from the OHL Eerie Otters up to the team this year. This tournament was key in his development as he had struggled a bit in the prospect camp the Hawks held in July. DeBrincat not only scored the championship winning goal by hitting the puck into the goal from midair, but also had 3 goals throughout the first 3 games of the tournament. Two other young players to keep your eye on in the next few weeks of training camp are Radovan Bondra (who is a 20 years old, 6’5”, 216 pound forward) and defenseman Luc Snuggerud who has a 5 point game against Carolina (2 goals and 3 assists).
The full team participated in the annual Training Camp Festival Saturday morning with a Red vs. White format. While the scrimmage didn’t start until 11am and doors opening at 9am, plenty of fans were in line well ahead of time to ensure their spots in the lower bowl and to be one of the first 10,000 fans to get a Patrick Kane bobblehead. While some people showed up the night before to ensure their spots behind the player bench, my daughter and I arrived about 7:30 and were able to get 7th row seats at the goal line in the Red defensive zone. After securing our seats, we went out to enjoy the festival. This is where the Hawks do a great job making for a fun experience for younger fans. They had a street hockey rink, inflatable obstacle course, a “wipeout” type activity, shoot the ball, live music, as well as pictures and autographs of alumni. The wait times were not bad for any of the activities and thus a more enjoyable experience for those hoping to participate. The 3 periods of 20 minute running clock scrimmage was dominated by the White team with them scoring the only 3 goals of the game. One line was the most electric all night with Nick Schmaltz playing center between the two Patricks (Kane and Sharp). But, with how well those three played together it wouldn’t shock me to see this line-up through the season, bumping Anisimov to the third line. We’ll have to keep watch throughout the 6 preseason games to see if this line sticks together or if Anisimov is able to remain a top 6 forward. While newcomer Connor Murphy gave up a breakaway goal to Patrick Sharp, it looks as though he was a good pickup for the Hawks as his size will be a good addition to the blue liners. Another standout was projected fourth string goalie Jeff Glass. He played well, including a beautiful glove save that was the best save of the night.