26 Chicago Blackhawks A youth movement should produce better results--just don't expect them this season

October 12, 2003

It was a drive that would've made Jake and Elwood Blues proud. As
part of a tradition dating to 1999, when they first became
teammates, Blackhawks 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 Blackhawks'
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. --R.D.

COLOR PHOTO COLOR PHOTO: ICON SMI ERIC DAZE

SI RANKING
( 1 Best -30 Worst )

OFFENSE 21
DEFENSE 23
GOALTENDING 19
POWER PLAY 29
PENALTY KILLING 13
G.M. AND COACH 20

INSIDER

The Blackhawks are searching for an identity. They aren't
hard-nosed enough to be a grinding team or skilled enough to be a
flow team.... D Jon Klemm is a nice player, but he and partner
Steve Poapst don't have the size or stamina to be big-minute guys
who can keep up the pace the entire season.... There are some
talented players in the pipeline--F's Igor Radulov and Travis
Moen, to name two--but none who will make a big impact this
season.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)