The Chicago Blackhawks are only two days into training camp, but we're already starting to see which roster spots are up for grabs and which players might be battling for those positions.
With a 55-man roster, the Blackhawks were divided into two practice groups on Thursday and Friday. The lines and pairings stayed pretty consistent.
Here's a loose rundown (don't put too much stock into lines 3 and 4, because they're essentially interchangeable):
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- Line 1: Ryan Donato — Connor Bedard — Tyler Johnson
- Line 2: Philipp Kurashev — Lukas Reichel — Andreas Athanasiou
- Line 3: Anders Bjork — Cole Guttman — Taylor Raddysh
- Line 4: Nick Foligno — Jason Dickinson — Corey Perry
- Line 5: Boris Katchouk — MacKenzie Entwistle — Reese Johnson
- Pairing 1: Wyatt Kaiser — Seth Jones
- Pairing 2: Kevin Korchinski — Connor Murphy
- Pairing 3: Jarred Tinordi — Nolan Allan
- Pairing 4: Alex Vlasic — Nikita Zaitsev
- Pairing 5: Isaak Phillips — Filip Roos
Taylor Hall has missed the first two days of practice because of a lower-body injury. It's unclear when he'll be cleared to practice — the Blackhawks should know more in the coming days — but once he is, the former Hart Trophy winner is surely going to slot into the top line, presumably in Donato's spot.
I'd imagine Donato would then move to the third line in the spot of Bjork, who doesn't even have an NHL contract; he signed an AHL contract with Rockford.
The forward battle gets interesting towards the bottom-six. Colin Blackwell is a potential bubble player, but he's dealing with a lower-body injury and remains out. His spot in the lineup isn't guaranteed once he gets healthy.
More notably, Entwistle, R. Johnson and Katchouk each skated together in white jerseys, which indicates they're on the outside looking in. They obviously know that.
"You don't have to be a genius to know there's a lot of forwards here," MacKenzie Entwistle said. "You count the numbers and there's a couple of us fighting for some spots. You've got to have a good camp, got to have good preseason games and we'll go from there.
"There's a lot of new guys, but that's good. It creates competition. It creates a battle out there. It creates heart and will to want to make the team and battle every shift.
"It's actually healthy. Any job that you're in, if you're the boss of the team or the boss of a job, you want competition. That pushes guys to do better, that pushes everyone in the locker room to do better and ultimately creates good competition for the players. At the end of the day, our team will be better for it."
It's a good perspective to have if you're a player like Entwistle, who was a regular last season. Same with Johnson and Katchouk, who finished the season strong.
But with more players in the mix, they have to prove to the staff that they not only belong with the Blackhawks, but they deserve to be one of the 12 players on any given night.
"Their roles enhanced at the end of last season when there was more opportunity," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "But now they probably realize there's more bodies in here, whether it be some young talent or some veteran leadership. I think they know. We don't have to have a discussion.
"Everybody knows that you have to battle every day to stay in the NHL, it's not just a given. There's a few special players in the league, other than that, everyone's got to work hard every day of the year now. It's not just an in-season thing, it's a 12-month a year job, so you can't even take off in the summer.
"You have to prepare — maybe 10 days or two weeks of rest after a season and you feel a little fresh, those guys are back in the gym, and if they aren't they're going to be behind. And I think they know that. Everybody showed up in good shape this year, so it's going to be a good fight."
On the back end, Kaiser is getting an early reward for his strong showing at the prospect showcase and his brief stint with the Blackhawks last season by playing with Jones on the top pairing. His spot isn't solidified, but he's getting the first crack up there.
Korchinski may or may not be a permanent full-time NHL player this season, but I wouldn't be surprised if he starts the season with the Blackhawks and then it goes from there.
Allan playing the right side with Tinordi is a good sign for him, but I still expect him to start the season in Rockford. Vlasic has shown that he's ready to be a full-time member with the Blackhawks, so I think he eventually is part of the everyday rotation.
Phillips and Roos are still part of the mix, but they have their work cut out for them, especially if Kaiser has a strong preseason, Korchinski sticks around for at least the beginning of the season, and the group stays healthy.
Zaitsev feels like a spot-start-type of defenseman at this point, but he remains in the fold, which means it's another body the young players are fighting for ice time and a spot with.
The training camp battles appear to be much more competitive this season than last. And it's only just beginning.