Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist, left, defends against Capitals winger Brendan Leipsic (28).

Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

Zawaski: Blackhawks' Preseason Opener Observations

Adam Boqvist showcased his offensive skill but must improve defensively.

Jay Zawaski
September 17, 2019 - 11:20 am
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(670 The Score) Hockey is finally (sort of) here. The Blackhawks opened the preseason Monday, falling 4-3 to the Capitals in overtime in Washington. While few Blackhawks regulars suited up, several bottom-of-the-roster options and top prospects had a chance to play.

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Here’s what I saw Monday night.

Mixed bag for Boqvist

When the Blackhawks traded defenseman Henri Jokiharju to the Sabres in July, they indirectly declared Adam Boqvist their top defensive prospect. Throughout prospects camp and the Traverse City Tournament, he looked like a player on a different level than his competition. Now that he’s up against NHL talent, we’ll find out what the Blackhawks really have and how ready Boqvist is for the highest level of hockey. 

On Monday, Boqvist's offensive talent was on display. He assisted on a goal -- a point shot rebound scored by Alex Nylander -- and scored a beauty of his own by corralling a bouncing puck behind the net, gliding out into the circle and sniping a roof shot. Boqvist's offensive game has never been in question. That aspect of his game is NHL ready ... which brings me to his defensive game.

There were several moments in the Blackhawks' zone in which Boqvist looked lost. I tweeted the term "passenger" to describe his defensive game, and I think that’s accurate. Maybe it’s a matter of him not wanting to make a mistake. Maybe he’s afraid of being too aggressive, but the opposite of that played out. Two of his turnovers ended up in the back of the net behind Blackhawks goalie Collin Delia. If Boqvist wants to force the Blackhawks to put him on the roster, he at least needs to be decent defensively. After one preseason game, he needs to take some steps to get to that point.

Nylander making his case

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman traded top defensive prospect Jokiharju for winger Alex Nylander straight up, even those who weren’t high on Jokiharju thought it wasn’t enough of a return. With that in mind, it’s safe to assume that Bowman is rooting for Nylander to prove him right. The returns were good for him Monday, as Nylander had a goal and an assist and was the best player on the ice for either team. He was dynamic and mature offensively and also more than responsible in his own end. He also stood out in the Blackhawks' training camp festival scrimmage. 

The issue with Nylander to this point in his young career has been his consistency. There will be moments of brilliance and moment of invisibility. It’s likely that he will be in the lineup when the Hawks host the Red Wings on Wednesday. Can he follow up his first game with a repeat performance?

Don’t sleep on Saarela 

As I wrote last week, the Blackhawks have many candidates for few roster spots. Forward Aleksi Saarela is one of those candidates. I liked his game Monday. I’m not sure he'll ever be a dynamic, top-flight scorer, but he looks like the kind of player who can replace Dominik Kahun pretty easily. Saarela was a major factor in the Charlotte Checkers’ run to the Calder Cup Championship, and he was more than a throw-in when the Hawks acquired Calvin deHaan and him in a trade with the Hurricanes in June.

Another retread on the way?

Boy, the Blackhawks love bringing back former players past their primes -- Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, the list goes on and on.

The newest name of the list is ... wait for it ... Kris Versteeg.

Signed to a deal with AHL Rockford this summer, Versteeg was sporting the "A" on his sweater Monday. Maybe it’s Coach Quenneville PTSD, but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s going to take shifts -- and games -- away from younger players with higher ceilings. Hopefully, coach Jeremy Colliton plays the best players and doesn't opt for the comfortable veteran.

That said, if the Hawks run in to some injury problems, Versteeg adds some versatility and dependability in a pinch.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to noon and a columnist for 670 The Score. He's also the co-host of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your preferred podcast app. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​​