John Hayden doing his part to earn Blackhawks roster spot


John Hayden doing his part to earn Blackhawks roster spot

John Hayden knew the situation entering this training camp: he was one of several young players looking for an opportunity with a Blackhawks team that, after some offseason signings, didn’t have a lot of spots available.

“I mean, since I got here I knew it’d be competitive. I’ve just tried to control what I can and that’s my play,” Hayden said on Friday. “I just have to work hard and feel more comfortable and understand the game a little better each day.”

Hayden has worked hard, having one of the standout camps that coach Joel Quenneville has mentioned on a regular basis. In a few days the Blackhawks will make their final cuts and it’s still a question whether or not Hayden will be among them. But considering what he’s done to this point, the Blackhawks seriously need to consider starting the season with him in Chicago.

“He looks like he’s working his tail off every single day. Every single shift is important to him,” Quenneville said. “He’s got the attitude you’re hoping for a guy who’s looking to make a roster spot or taking a roster spot and showing he’ll do whatever it takes. He continues to do it.”

Hayden was part of the Blackhawks’ fourth line on Friday, and if that holds tomorrow he’ll get one last preseason game for an audition. Obviously the Blackhawks aren’t totally new to him. Hayden got several games in last spring after finishing up his senior season at Yale. But it was all new to him there were some up and down moments and he was balancing a little schoolwork along with his pro hockey debut. Hayden recognized what he needed to improve and did so this summer, working with Ben Prentiss, who has trained pro hockey players for nearly two decades.

“What’s great about that gym is they’re always giving us new things to work on, new philosophies. There are always new developments as far as nutrition. Same goes for strength and conditioning. I was fortunate to work at that gym,” Hayden said. “It’s really about keeping up to the pace of this game. It’s so fast at this level.”

Alex DeBrincat looks like he’s carved out a spot on this team; he’s transitioned very well to the pro game and right now could be getting an opportunity. Hayden should get a chance as well. The Blackhawks could benefit from his size, physical play and scoring touch in the bottom six of the lineup. Hayden knew it was going to be tough to make this roster, but as of now it looks like he’s done everything to make it.

“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,” Hayden said. “At the end of the day there’s opportunity here. That’s the motivation.”

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.