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26 CHICAGO Blackhawks
Richard Deitsch
October 13, 2003
A youth movement should produce better results—just don't expect them this season
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October 13, 2003

26 Chicago Blackhawks

A youth movement should produce better results—just don't expect them this season

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SI RANKING
(1 BEST-30 WORST)

OFFENSE

21

DEFENSE

23

GOALTENDING

19

POWER PLAY

29

PENALTY KILLING

13

G.M. AND COACH

20

It was a drive that would've made Jake and El-wood Blues proud. As part of a tradition dating to 1999, when they first became teammates, Black-hawks left wing Eric Daze and goaltender Jocelyn Thibault would travel together every September from their Montreal homes to training camp, a trip that covered some 850 miles.

Following an injury-plagued season that limited him to 54 games, however, Daze hired a personal trainer for the first time and decided this September that a two-hour plane ride would be easier on his 6'6" frame than 15 hours in a car. "I don't think driving was the reason I had back surgery last year, but why take a chance?" says Daze, who missed the first 15 games last season after surgery for a herniated disc. A healthy Daze, 28, will improve the league's 28th-ranked power play and, Chicago hopes, repeat his performance of 2001-02 when he led the Blackhawks in goals (38) and points (70).

He'll need a supple body just to keep up with his youthful teammates. "We'll be quick, skilled and younger," promises coach Brian Sutter. If the youth movement has a face, it's that of Tuomo Ruutu, a 6'1", 202-pound center with a nasty streak that reminds some scouts of the Islanders' Michael Peca. The 20-year-old Ruutu was generally regarded as the best player outside the NHL in 2002-03 before he tore his left ACL last January in the Finnish Elite League. In August the Black-hawks' first-round draft pick in 2001 finally signed an incentive-laden three-year deal that could be worth up to $15 million.

Chicago hasn't had a premier defenseman since Chris Chelios was traded in March 1999, so steady but unspectacular blueliners Jon Klemm and Steve Poapst will have to do until youngsters such as 2002 No. 1 pick Anton Babchuk develop. Thibault was the team's lone All-Star last season and will keep most games close.

But unless Ruutu is the second coming of Denis Savard, expect these Blackhawks to be mostly Daze and confused.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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