The second annual Chicago Pro Hockey League kicked off on Wednesday at Fifth Third Arena, featuring more than 80 professional hockey players from the NHL, AHL, ECHL, along with elite amateurs from various Division 1 colleges, junior teams and AAA programs. And for the first time, a women's division has been added.
Connor Murphy was among those who participated in Week 1, and he spent some time beforehand to talk about the Blackhawks' offseason moves so far and his excitement level going into the 2019-20 season.
"It's been awesome," he said. "It's crazy the amount of moves. It seems like every week there's something and you open Instagram and see something pop up. It's hard to see certain guys go that we've been teammates with the last couple of years, but we've gotten some experienced guys who are definitely big players in the league who can help us a lot I think."
Many of the moves GM Stan Bowman has made this summer is directly correlated with what went wrong last season, which included a leaky defense and 31st-ranked penalty kill. For example, trade acquisitions Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta are expected to play large roles on the penalty kill, as is free-agent signing Ryan Carpenter, who's also a faceoff specialist.
"I'm sure there are different parts management feel they needed to clean up a bit," Murphy said. "But I think some of that stuff, too, is just team play and things we maybe started to do a little bit better in the later part of the year that, hopefully when we have a full training camp under our belt with team and coaching staff that we get things more in order and have a hot start going over to Europe. There's definitely things those guys can bring to the table that will affect our team in a big way. I'm sure we'll see it pay off right away."
Murphy hasn't gotten a chance to meet some of the new additions yet, but he did get an opportunity to meet Robin Lehner in Chicago this week and that's a signing that sticks out as one that could be impactful immediately.
"He's a great guy," Murphy said. "He's big, so you love seeing big goalies. And to have two really experienced guys - [Cam Ward] had experience, too - and [Lehner] with the success and unbelievable year he had last year with the Islanders, is impressive. I'm a fan of his, so it's nice to have him back there."
Perhaps the most important part of training camp and preseason will be getting everyone on the same page, whether the players were on the team last season or not. For the players that were here, they know exactly what to expect out of Jeremy Colliton and the way he wants to play. And for the new additions, it's about getting acclimited as quickly as possible so the Blackhawks can hit the ground running on Opening Day.
"Yeah, I think that's important," Murphy said. "For the coaching staff in general, they mentioned a little bit last year at times that it's nice to have that time to clean things up. It's hard when they jump in, when you have games and only one day of practice in between each game. You don't have a lot of time to work on little details. So that stuff came slower and this year, having that time to practice and all of camp is important to kind of get that message and get through the kinks in exhibition games. It's nice to have everyone on the same page with new players coming in and new staff, for us all to come together right away and have that time."