Toews hopeful to return opening night for Blackhawks

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CHICAGO — Jonathan Toews said he hopes to play in the regular-season opener, but the Chicago Blackhawks center will have to see how he progresses throughout training camp.

“That’s my goal, but I think I just have to keep being patient and I think there are things you can learn as far as how I approach the game when you’re not firing on all cylinders and the conditioning is not quite there yet,” Toews said Thursday, the first day of Blackhawks training camp. “So I’m just chipping away at that and getting back into watching video and thinking the game. That’s my plan. I’d love to (play in the opener), but the focus is on tomorrow for now.”

Chicago opens its season at the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 13.

Toews, who missed all of last season with chronic immune response syndrome, said he did test positive for COVID-19 antibodies. The 33-year-old participated in the first of the three 75-minute practice sessions, skating on a line with left wing Brandon Hagel and right wing Dominik Kubalik.

“As dog-tired as I was out there today, it’s a good feeling instead of, ‘OK, I’m in trouble, I’m going to be up on the couch for two or three days doing nothing after that,'” Toews said. “So I think to me, that’s progress and it feels good to go out there and feel that.”

General manager Stan Bowman said Toews’ presence at camp was uplifting for the Blackhawks.

“He’s a big part of this team, he’s captain of the team,” Bowman said. “Just take away what he does on the ice, just his presence, he has a lot of experience. We have a really young group, so to have him here — he’s been around most of the summer — skating with our guys and the new players. Some of the players last year never really met him, never been on the ice with him. So that was a bonus to have him here and obviously he was missed. He seems in great spirits too.”

Video: Chicago Blackhawks 2021-22 Season Preview

Toews has not played since the 2019-20 season, when he scored 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in 70 games. He scored nine points (five goals, four assists) in nine games during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Chicago was eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference First Round. 

“The biggest thing is you want him to be himself, right?” forward Patrick Kane said. “He’s such a big part of this organization and part of this team for such a long time. After a year off, you’re coming into a new team … I even feel like it’s a brand-new team, a lot of different faces. Just have him be himself, keep building himself every day. With his work ethic and competitiveness, he’ll get there.”

The third pick by Chicago in the 2006 NHL Draft, Toews has scored 815 points (345 goals, 470 assists) in 943 regular-season NHL games and 119 points (45 goals, 74 assists) in 137 postseason games. He helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. In 2010, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, voted as the most valuable player in the playoffs, after scoring 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 22 games.

“Still at that point where I’m not 100 percent, but there’s still a lot I can learn as far as slowing the game down, thinking the game better and pinpoint what I’ve done well, what I haven’t done so well in the past too,” Toews said. “All the while, I’ll just keep working on my conditioning, get myself back to a point where I know I feel great, I feel like myself out there.”

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