Could 2016-2017 Blackhawks Have Strongest Defense In Recent Years?

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CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01: Kenny Agostino #73 of the St. Louis Blues gets called for hooking against Gustav Forsling #42 of the Chicago Blackhawks during a preseason game at the United Center on October 1, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

By Scott King @ScottKingMedia

Last season there was a catastrophic hole in the Blackhawks’ defense. A hole that at times when it mattered most engulfed the entire team. By acquiring Brian Campbell and by the preseason performances of other signees and prospects, that hole may cease to exist for the upcoming season.

“I think this is probably the deepest D core group we’ve had since I’ve been in this organization,” said three-time Stanley Cup champion Niklas Hjalmarsson. “I think it’s good for everybody. I think it’s good for us that have been here for a while too to maybe push each other even harder, to not feel as safe. To have those big minutes to push ourselves to getting better and keep feeling the pressure from behind.”

Head coach Joel Quenneville echoed Hjalmarsson’s praise of the Hawks’ potential defensive unit. “I agree with him,” Quenneville said. “I know, as a staff, we’re looking, we’ve got eight guys on the board there and we feel all eight guys can play and we feel all eight guys can play against the best players on the other team.”

“I think there’s been a lot of impressive players,” said two-time Norris trophy winner Duncan Keith. “The way they’ve played, Forsling and Kempny, they did a lot of good things out there. The list kind of goes on. I think we’re excited, but it’s just one step at a time, getting better and improving here through training camp. The regular season is another step up too. We just want to get better every day.”

THE NEW GUYS

Michal Kempny: 26 years old, from Hodonin, Czech Republic

Before playing in this year’s World Cup of Hockey for the Czech Republic, Kempny registered 21 points (5G, 16A) through 59 games in his first season with the Kontinental Hockey League’s Avangard Omsk last year. Kempy signed a one-year contract with the Hawks in May.

The Czech defenseman offers experience and reliability on the back end. Fellow Czech Michal Rozsival has most likely been helping him get acclimated to the organization and the big league behind the scenes. Kempy is a safe bet to be your seventh, or eighth if/when they carry eight, defenseman this year.

Gustav Forsling: 20 years old, from Linkoping, Sweden 

The Swedish defenseman tallied 21 points (6G, 15A) through 48 games with the Swedish Hockey League’s Linkoping HC last year. Forsling was first acquired by the Hawks in a trade with the Canucks, sending defenseman Adam Clendening to Vancouver. Chicago signed Forsling to a three-year contract in May.

Tuesday night Gustav Forsling showed why Queeneville and VP/GM Stan Bowman have been high on him since the beginning of camp. He put on a passing clinic all game long. The most impressive pass being a beautiful one right before the end of regulation on the happy end of Artem Anisimov’s stick to make the final score 6-1 Hawks.

“I was really impressed with him,” Keith said. “I mean, I don’t think he missed a pass. It was tape-to-tape pretty much the whole game, the first two periods anyway. He’s fun to watch. That was obviously a nice play right at the end there. Really smooth and a heads-up play.”

Whether it’s as the sixth or seventh defenseman, Forsling has done enough to stick to the Hawks’ roster already.

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