Blackhawks look to return to playoffs after active offseason

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CHICAGO — Seth Jones spent the first few days of training camp trying to stop Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.

It was just like old times.

“It’s not that fun,” a grinning Jones said.

At least Jones won’t have to chase Kane around during games anymore, not after Chicago acquired the 6-foot-4 defenseman in a blockbuster trade with Columbus in July — part of an active summer for the Blackhawks that ramped up expectations for coach Jeremy Colliton’s fourth season in charge.

Jones, who agreed to a $76 million, eight-year extension after the deal, takes over as Chicago’s No. 1 defenseman.

“Just bring the work ethic every night. I may not be perfect, but I’m going to give it my all,” Jones said, “and hopefully guys can follow that, too.”

With Jones in the fold, general manager Stan Bowman continued to make over the roster. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Tyler Johnson were acquired in two more July trades. Jake McCabe, another veteran defenseman, signed with the team in free agency.

Fleury is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner after he went 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage with Vegas last season. Johnson helped Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup each of the last two years.

“I think, you know, from last year — we’re in a rebuild or whatever it was — coming into this year, I think we have a good team and I think we can do something special with these guys,” said Alex DeBrincat, who scored a team-high 32 goals for Chicago last year. “Definitely fun getting all those big-name players and seeing the team shape up.”

Jonathan Toews also returns after the captain missed last season with what he described as chronic immune response syndrome. The center also had COVID-19 at one point.

Even without Toews, the Blackhawks were in the mix for a playoff spot before fading at the end of the year. This time around, Kane and company want more.

The front office “did a great job,” Kane said. “Obviously made some big moves to make us a relevant team again.”

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WHAT’S UP, DACH?

The Blackhawks are looking for a breakthrough season from center Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft.

The 20-year-old Dach had eight goals and 15 assists in 64 games in his first season with the team. But he fractured his right wrist while playing for Canada’s world junior team in December 2020.

Dach had surgery and returned in March, but he still had some wrist pain after he started playing again.

“I feel 100%,” Dach said Tuesday. “I haven’t had any problems. Once I got back here in August is kind of when I felt really good.”

A healthy Dach could take over a top-six role, adding depth to the Blackhawks’ group of centers.

WORTH WATCHING

It’s a big season for Dylan Strome, who had just nine goals and eight assists in 40 games last year. The No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft was a healthy scratch for four of the team’s last 10 games.

The 24-year-old Strome has looked more comfortable at center, but that’s a crowded spot for the Blackhawks with Toews’ return and the addition of Johnson.

There also is some intrigue surrounding Alex Nylander after the 23-year-old winger missed last season with a left knee injury. Nylander, who was selected by Buffalo with the No. 8 pick in the 2016 draft, had 10 goals and 16 assists in his first season with Chicago.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

Lukas Reichel might be able to help the Blackhawks this year. The 19-year-old forward is pushing for a spot after he was selected by the team in the first round of the 2020 draft.

Henrik Borgstrom also is hoping to create some tough decisions for Bowman and Colliton. Borgstrom is looking to return to the NHL after spending last season in Finland. A former standout at the University of Denver, the 24-year-old center has nine goals and 10 assists in 58 career NHL games, all with Florida.

IN GOAL

Fleury and Kevin Lankinen could form one of the NHL’s best tandems in goal. The 26-year-old Lankinen is coming off a solid rookie season, going 17-14-5 with 3.01 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

Blackhawks look to return to playoffs after active offseason originally appeared on NBCSports.com