The Blackhawks have been forced to make some tough roster decisions this offseason — shipping fan-favorites Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp out of Chicago — due to salary cap restraints. But with that comes an opportunity for others to step up, particularly young players within the organization.
Marko Dano is one of them.
The 20-year-old forward who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of the Saad trade showed some real promise in 35 regular-season games last season, recording eight goals and 13 assists. Dano immediately becomes one of the frontrunners to crack the NHL roster and make an early impact, but he's also looking to learn along the way, especially from his idol Marian Hossa.
"It's a great opportunity for me to be on one team with [Hossa]," Dano told CSNChicago.com at the eighth annual Blackhawks Convention over the weekend. "There's a lot of things I could learn from him and all those other guys."
Ryan Hartman is another prospect knocking on the door.
The Blackhawks' 2013 first-round pick spent the majority of last season with the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs, where he tallied 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 69 regular-season games and added two goals and an assist in eight postseason contests. Hartman, a Chicago native, also made his presence felt in five games with the Blackhawks last season.
While he certainly understands the importance of development, Hartman is looking to build off his brief stint in the NHL last year and seize the opportunity if and when he gets it again.
"Obviously there's some room for guys to hop in and I'm sure there's going to be a lot of guys up and down throughout the year," Hartman said. "Whenever you do get your chance, you just got to take advantage of that opportunity and hopefully you can stay as long as possible. That's kind of the mindset going into the season."
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One of the more exciting prospects is Nick Schmaltz, who drew some high remarks from general manager Stan Bowman — "He was very impressive all week" — at prospect camp. Schmaltz — the 20th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft — continues to stand out at every level, and said he's gotten "a little stronger" this summer.
It may be tempting for Schmaltz, who grew up a Blackhawks fan, to rush the process, but the 19-year-old forward is staying patient and continues to focus on his development.
"I'm just trying to focus on my season and just getting better and what I need to do to get to the next level," Schmaltz said. "Obviously I want to get there as soon as I can, but whatever it takes to get there, if I need to develop longer in the minors or wherever, as long as one day I get there I'll be happy."
While competing for and solidifying a roster spot with the Blackhawks may be the ultimate goal, all three players are committed to improving their own game that will pay dividends in the NHL, which could be sooner rather than later.