Blackhawks

All-Star game validates Sharp's career evolution

375210.jpg

All-Star game validates Sharp's career evolution

Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011
Posted 9:06 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

RALEIGH, N.C. John Stevens remembers always getting a look from Patrick Sharp when the Philadelphia Phantoms were prepping for a game-deciding shootout.

He was always looking over his shoulder at you, hoping to be picked, said the former Phantoms coach, now an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings. He always had that look of confidence to be the guy to help the team win.

Sharp never needed to hone his focus. Through the years he did hone his game, and as he takes part in this weekends All-Star Game festivities hes evolved into a complete player who has earned superstar status.

With names like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa getting much of the national attention out of Chicago, Sharps sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But those who were with him in Philadelphia when his pro career began beg to differ.

As someone whos coached against him, he doesn't get lost in the shuffle. He has become a 200-foot player, said former Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, who was at the Philadelphia Flyers helm when Sharp was drafted and played for them in the early 2000s.

When he came to us from college, he had the reputation and the game and you could see that he was going to have the ability to score, Hitchcock said. The 200-foot game was something he had to learn and work on but he really did a great job.

Make no mistake: Sharps scoring touch is still tremendous. He already has more goals in 2010-11 (26) than he had all of last season (25) and hes been strong for the Blackhawks on the other side, too, especially on the penalty kill.

For Sharp, those early Philadephia days were a time of learning and growing, especially under Hitchcock.

He knows the real way and right way to play, Sharp said. Im thankful that I played under him for so many years. Id like to think I became a better player because of Hitch.

Sharp was selected in the third round (95th overall) by the Flyers in 2001. He split time between the Flyers and Phantoms during the 2003-04 season. But when the NHL locked out in 2004-05, Sharp played the entire season with the Phantoms.

Hitchcock said the biggest adjustment Sharp had to make wasnt so much his game, but the number he had to play once he hit the pros.

He was playing 36 games a year (at college) and the Phantoms played (nearly) 100 games when they won the Calder Cup in (2004-05). It was an adjustment, Hitchcock said. Just the level of play was one thing, but the amount of games and how many games there were every week was a real grind.

He apparently adjusted quick. Sharp was a big part of the Phantoms run to the Calder Trophy that season, scoring 23 goals in the regular season and eight more in the playoffs. Stevens said Sharp played in every situation for the Phantoms and started to develop his all-around game.

Stevens said he was also selfless. When Jeff Carter came into the Flyers organization and joined the Phantoms, Sharp was the teams No. 1 center. Sharp was asked to move to right wing to give Carter the top center job, and Stevens said Sharp was more than happy to do it.

Mike Haviland, now the Blackhawks assistant coach, first noticed Sharps development while coaching at Atlantic City and then Trenton in the East Coast Hockey League.

He understood what it took to be successful at this level, and its all three zones. He takes a lot of pride in not only scoring goals but also not getting scored upon, Haviland said. Hes made great strides in the defensive zone, especially moving from wing to the middle. Its not easy.

And if Sharp had a bad game during those formative pro years, he was harder on himself than anyone.

He was his own worst critic, Stevens said. It may have been misconstrued at first that he didnt care because he was quiet. He wanted to learn, wanted to work at his game. He did all of the things you want a young player to do. He took the right attitude and now were seeing the fruits of his labor.

But in December 2005 the Flyers traded Sharp to Chicago for forward Matt Ellison, who played little in Philadelphia before ending up overseas. A trade the Blackhawks obviously got the better of, Sharp and his new team seemed to mirror each other: both were about to break through and prosper.

Getting the chance to go to Chicago and play in every situation while the team was growing and building themselves really helped him, Hitchcock said. Without pressure he was able to go there and play and develop. The last couple of years when the team was ready to win, he was ready to play the complete game. He has just developed such a complete game now that he's dangerous offensively, trustworthy defensively.

And thats where Sharp is today. The All-Star nod was validation for how hard hes worked on his game. Its also something that puts him on the league-wide radar. Those who were with him in Philly knew he would be.

I know there are the Hossas and the Toews and Kanes, Hitchcock said. But Sharp has everyone's attention.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

1020_hawks_yotes.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

1020_anton_forsberg.jpg
USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.