TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Chicago Blackhawks will begin play in the Traverse City rookie tournament on Friday. Here are five prospects to keep an eye on throughout the five-day tournament:
Kyle Baun, forward
Young hockey players' first impressions are important to Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. If Quenneville likes what he sees early, that can go a long way. If the initial impression is negative, it can take a while for a player to dig himself out of that hole. Baun, 23, put himself in Quenneville’s favor in his first three NHL games last season after signing as a college free agent. Baun was physical, defensively responsible and played hard. Quenneville rewarded Baun by playing him an average of 12:32 in those games. Baun’s potential is likely as a bottom-6 forward who can throw his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame around, contribute occasionally offensively and be solid defensively. The Blackhawks have a lot of forward depth at this point, so it may be difficult for Baun to crack the Blackhawks’ roster of training camp. But if he continues to show what he did last season, he will likely find himself in the NHL this season. The rookie tournament is a chance for him to build his résumé.
Erik Gustafsson, defenseman
The Blackhawks are likely to carry seven defensemen this season. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Daley, Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad can be slotted into six of those spots. The seventh one is up for grabs. Gustafsson, 23, will be part of the competition for it. He signed with the Blackhawks in late April after spending the last three seasons in the Swedish Hockey League. He played well in the Blackhawks prospect camp and said he was hopeful to make the NHL roster. He will have to impress at training camp to earn that job, but the rookie tournament is a good starting point. Van Riemsdyk and Phillip Danault helped their causes at the rookie tournament in London, Ontario last season.
Ryan Hartman, forward
Hartman, 20, is the lone first-round pick playing for the Blackhawks in the tournament. He was taken in the first round in 2013. He had a solid first professional campaign last season. He was called up to the Blackhawks in February and played in five games before returning to the Rockford IceHogs. ESPN NHL draft and prospects analyst Corey Pronman recently ranked Hartman as the Blackhawks’ second best prospect and placed him No. 61 overall. He may still be a year away from a permanent NHL position.
Vincent Hinostroza, forward
Hinostroza, 20, decided to leave Notre Dame after his sophomore year and sign with the Blackhawks last spring. He’s a gifted offensive player and has a knack for setting up teammates. He had 33 assists in 42 games for the Irish last season. This will be his first professional season. He’s likely a year or two away from the NHL.
Tanner Kero, forward
Kero, 23, made scoring look easy in the AHL after signing with the Blackhawks as a college free agent in April. He scored five goals in six regular-season games for the IceHogs. He then scored two more goals in six AHL playoff games. He obviously has scoring ability. He had 20 goals in 41 games as a senior at Michigan Tech last season. His first NHL call-up will come sooner than later if he continues to put the puck in the net.