CHICAGO (AP) Kyle Baun had a row of stitches across the bridge of his nose and a smile on his face. He cracked up when Patrick Kane stopped by his locker and just stared at the rookie forward for a brief moment.
On and off the ice, Baun looks right at home with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The 23-year-old Baun is pushing for a roster spot with the Stanley Cup champions after entering training camp as a long shot to make the team. He had three goals and an assist in five preseason games, impressing the Blackhawks with his hustle and physical play.
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”Gives us some energy,” coach Joel Quenneville said. ”He’s like a hard type of worker, up and down, goes to the net, strong in the puck area. Gives us some size on the wing.”
There is still a lot of time before the roster is set for the Blackhawks’ opener against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night, and Baun committed two ugly penalties in the first period of Saturday night’s 4-0 win against Dallas. But he finished with a plus-one rating in the preseason finale.
”This roster is obviously pretty packed with talent,” Baun said. ”It’s a tight-knit group that’s been through a lot together, a lot of good times. So I don’t think they just accept anyone, and I think that means just I got to kind of prove myself and earn their respect.”
So far, so good. Kane said he thinks Baun could be a pleasant surprise this year.
”He’s a physical presence,” he said. ”He’s got speed. He’s got a hard shot, and he’s one of those guys that can really help our team.”
Just one year ago, Baun was heading into his junior season at Colgate. He had 14 goals and 15 assists in 38 games with the Raiders, tying for second on the team in points, and then signed a two-year deal with Chicago in March.
Despite joining the Blackhawks near the end of the regular season, Baun quickly grabbed the attention of Quenneville and the rest of the coaching staff. He made his NHL debut April 7 against Minnesota and appeared in the final three games before the playoffs.
That little taste of the NHL was a big help for Baun coming into this year.
”From a comfort standpoint, just being around the guys and being around the media and that kind of thing definitely helped there,” he said, ”and then also on the ice, too. You don’t get as overwhelmed seeing all the guys you grew up watching.”
Baun got a head start on life in the NHL while he was growing up in Toronto. He is the grandson of former Maple Leafs defenseman Bob Baun, who had the tiebreaking goal in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit while playing on a broken right leg.
The Maple Leafs went on to their third consecutive title, and Baun’s play remains one of the most memorable moments in the history of one of the league’s most beloved franchises.
”It was definitely very cool when I was younger having him as a grandfather and we went on fishing trips together,” Kyle Baun said. ”For sure he got me into hockey.”
Bob Baun was known as a hard hitter during his 17-year career with three teams, and his grandson has shown off his hitting ability during his short time in the NHL. But he also was on the receiving end of a big hit in a preseason game against the Blues, leading to the stitches on his nose.
The 6-foot-2 Baun played it off as no big deal. He remains focused on earning a spot on one of the NHL’s best teams.
”I just wanted to come in here and play my game, do what I could,” he said. ”I was just hoping if I did that then things would work out.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap