Jimmy Hayes' NHL debut came on one of the biggest stages possible. No, it wasnt a playoff game, but the Blackhawks regular-season game against division rival Detroit certainly had that feel.And while Hayes didnt log a ton of minutes, coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw from the rookie when he was on the ice.He had a great first shift and he still had presence, Quenneville said after the Blackhawks 3-2 victory over Detroit on Friday night. He had good physicality, strength with the puck and he was dangerous around the net. He didnt play a ton but it was a good first game for him.Hayes played about eight and a half minutes, recording two shots on goal, a blocked shot and four hits, tied for team best with Daniel Carcillo. Playing with Jamal Mayers and Andrew Brunette on the fourth line, the group had scoring opportunities early. Hayes himself clanged one off the post.The 6-foot-6, 221-pound Hayes is the latest Blackhawks prospect to have a chance with the big team. But unlike the past few seasons when the Blackhawks were doing the Rockford shuffle due to money constraints, now theyre doing it to see what their farm team has to offer.And why shouldnt they look at their options? They have plenty of them, mainly among the forward ranks. Some have asked if its hurting the young players development. No, it isnt. Their development is still mainly with Rockford, not with the Blackhawks. Not yet, anyway.So far, none of the prospects have latched on for a long ride in Chicago. Part of that is because of the Blackhawks depth and health: theyve both been good. In some cases, the kids just arent ready for the big stage.How long will Hayes stay? If he keeps building on his debut game, it could be for a little bit. With Hayes here, the Blackhawks have 23 on the roster and can stay that way as long as they want no salary-cap, shuffle-inducing problems here anymore.Hayes is the latest to get the opportunity, one he called a dream come true when he arrived earlier this week. What he does with it is up to him.
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After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.
The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.
But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.
So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?
Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.
These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.
Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.
Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.
On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.
While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.
Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids.
Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.
Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.
All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.