On the first day of training camp, Jonathan Toews admitted his “goal” was to play opening night — but he was careful to couch that statement with plenty of caution.
Toews’ goal has turned into a plan. On Saturday, two and a half weeks after Toews officially returned to Hawks practices, the 33-year-old captain said he will “absolutely” be ready for the start of the regular season Wednesday against the Avalanche.
“It’s not my decision [if I’ll play], but I don’t think that’s up in the air,” he clarified.
Toews’ outlook has been difficult to evaluate for almost a year now. Even once he returned to the public eye in June to disclose his chronic immune response syndrome diagnosis, it wasn’t clear if he’d actually be fit enough to play this season.
Even once he started daily workouts at Fifth Third Arena in July and August, it wasn’t clear when he’d fully rejoin the team. And even once he arrived for camp and played in the first preseason game, it wasn’t clear if he could handle the daily grind.
At every step in his recovery, however, Toews has exceeded expectations — even his own.
“To be honest with you, a week or two away from camp, I was a little worried, a little panicky,” Toews said. “But I just stayed with that attitude [of] just take it one day at a time and don’t look too closely at that big picture.
“I made some pretty good progress with how I’m feeling and how I’m playing out there and trying to be smart with the puck. [I’m hoping to] just rely on my instincts and my experience, and slowly everything else will come as long as I keep chipping away. I’m just having fun with the process.”
Even before Saturday, the Hawks had seemingly already anticipated Toews would travel for their opening-week road trip to Colorado, New Jersey and Pittsburgh, at least judging by Patrick Kane’s comments Wednesday.
“I’m obviously looking forward to having [Jonathan] in the lineup this year,” Kane said. “He’s going to help in a lot of ways: having a one-two punch and also on the power play with faceoffs [and] being down low.”
Toews played his fourth preseason game Saturday after averaging 19:16 ice time per game in the first three, a startlingly hefty workload.
He took a maintenance day off from practice Friday, his second such day of camp, but that’s to be expected — team veterans have universally talked about how especially grueling coach Jeremy Colliton’s camp schedule has been this year. Toews might also need some practices or games off during the regular season, but those will be handled on situational bases.
“You’ve got to jump into it at some point, so that’s what I’m doing,” Toews said. “The recovery and everything else will come along with it. If there’s days throughout the season where I need some maintenance, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Toews’ line with Dominik Kubalik and Philipp Kurashev looks virtually cemented, too.
Toews’ dominant faceoff skill — clearly unaffected by the year off, considering he entered the weekend 39-for-55 this preseason — and ability to win puck battles meshes well with Kurashev and Kubalik’s respective playmaking and shooting specialties.
“Toews is so good down low, and so is Kurashev at protecting the puck and escaping,” Colliton said. “Then you have a pretty good shooter in the slot. We think that could be a good combination.”
But no matter how they fare Wednesday, Toews will appreciate simply playing in a meaningful game again at last.
“I’m pretty happy, given what the last month has looked like,” Toews said. “Ultimately…I feel confident. My game is there. My energy is there. So I’ve just got to keep taking care of my body.”