Blackhawks

Blackhawks' young players brimming with confidence

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks' young players brimming with confidence

Ryan Hartman is entering this training camp with a much higher level of confidence. Having a spot on this roster, something he wasn’t sure he’d have entering last fall, helps. But the confidence is a byproduct of his entire rookie season and every experience it brought with it.

“You get a full season under your belt and you’re able to feel out the game, adjust your speed and your quickness to the pace of the NHL game,” he said. “Last year was a big step for all of us, coming in here this year knowing what to expect, knowing how to play their game right and thinking of what to do on the ice.”

As several of the Blackhawks embark on their second season in the NHL there’s more certainty in their approach, whether they’re already part of this roster (Hartman and Nick Schmaltz) or trying to get one of the few coveted spots remaining (John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza).

When Schmaltz entered camp last fall he was fresh out of college and admittedly apprehensive – “I was nervous coming in, didn’t know if it was going to work,” he said at the team’s convention in July. There has been none of that this past week. A stronger, more confident Schmaltz has emerged, one that’s approached coach Joel Quenneville enough to give him a shot at the second-line center role.

“Yeah, it’s just familiarity with the coaching and the players,” he said. “You just know what to expect, you kind of come in with a good mindset and start off on the right track right away.”

Much like 2016, Hinostroza is on the bubble again this fall. But unlike last September he’s not sweating what may or may not happen out of camp.

“This year I feel like I’m more mentally stronger, more mature,” he said. “I don’t feel pressure at all. Maybe a year ago I did, thinking, ‘what are these guys going to do?’ But this year… I’m trying to focus on myself and I’m confident where I’m at. I made some improvements. I’m just going to believe in myself and the rest will play out.”

Hayden, on the same bubble as Hinostroza, got a taste of the NHL late last spring following his senior season at Yale. It was a small sample size but Hayden nevertheless got a good idea of what to work on entering the fall – improving his speed was a big focus – and what to expect overall.

“It’s so fast at this level. So yeah, it definitely helped playing games at the end of the year. If anything, told myself I belong at this level. There are familiar faces at camp, and it’s my job to prove I deserve to be on the team,” he said. “No [pressure]; you just control what you can and that’s my play. I put the work in for the offseason and now I have to play my game.”

Hartman’s biggest adjustment came with the speed, too – “it’s a completely different level from Rockford to here, the pace of play and how quickly everything happens,” he said. That, and being confident enough to know when to hold the puck and when to give it up.

“Right away I was getting the puck and wanting to get it to someone else just so I didn’t make a mistake. Now I’m trying to make plays and trying to better the team,” Hartman said. “I definitely feel pretty good this year.”

For the Blackhawks who got their first taste here last season, the wide-eyed part of the NHL indoctrination is over. Now to keep building on the experience. And the confidence.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?

Jesse Rogers (ESPN Chicago), Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) and Dan McNeil join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

Corey Crawford is reportedly suffering vertigo-like symptoms and there’s a chance he might not return this season. Are the Blackhawks playoff chances gone if he doesn’t come back?

Plus, the guys talk Bears coaches, preview Conference Championship weekend and Jesse discusses if the Cubs are saving their money for next winter’s big free agent class.

Listen to the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks

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Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have been tight-lipped about Corey Crawford's status ever since he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury, and it's fueled rampant speculation on social media about what's really going on. That came to an end on Tuesday when Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that there's growing concern within the organization that its star goaltender could miss the remainder of the season with vertigo-like symptoms. (Blackhawks senior adviser Scotty Bowman went on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Wednesday to clarify it's post-concussion syndrome).

And while there's at least some clarity surrounding Crawford's condition, it's opened up more questions about what the Blackhawks may do going forward.

On Monday we broke down the unfavorable playoff picture for the Blackhawks going into the bye week, which was a glaring concern in and of itself. Add in the possibility that Crawford could be sidelined for the rest of the campaign and those chances absolutely diminish.

So what course of action should the Blackhawks take ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline? That's where the tricky part comes in.

Because of the nature of Crawford's injury, the Blackhawks aren't at a point right now where they want to put him on long-term injured reserve because that would require him to miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 days, and they're still holding out hope that he could come back within that timeframe. The problem with it is that nobody really knows. It could be days, weeks or months, and putting a restriction on that doesn't make much sense in the middle of a playoff run even though it would open up significant cap space.

Which brings us to our next point. There are certainly some decent rental goaltenders (Robin Lehner, Petr Mrazek or Antti Raanta, to name a few) on the market if the Blackhawks choose to go that route, but that might not be the wisest thing to do.

Given their spot in the standings and the chances Crawford could return, why risk giving up future assets for a playoff run that may not happen? It would be different if the Blackhawks wanted to add some insurance for the stretch run and postseason, but there's no guarantee it'll happen.

If the Blackhawks did, however, want to go that route, they would need to act quickly because there's no point in waiting closer to the deadline. Every point is crucial from here on out.

Perhaps the best and most logical idea is to stand pat.

Let it ride with Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass and hope they can hold the fort down until a potential Crawford return. Let the young guys continue to grow. Maybe add a defenseman to patch up the back end, but don't empty the tank. There's no reason to. The Blackhawks are hoping to sign highly-touted prospect Dylan Sikura after his college season ends, which would serve as a deadline acquisition by itself.

It will be tempting for the Blackhawks to be aggressive at the trade deadline in the wake of Crawford's injury, and they're surely already having these discussions as they continue to explore the different avenues. But this might be a rare case where doing nothing is the right way to go.