Tanner Kero's two-way game keeping him in Blackhawks' fold


Tanner Kero's two-way game keeping him in Blackhawks' fold

SAN FRANCISCO – Tanner Kero’s trip to the Blackhawks was originally to spark the big club’s offense.

The 23-year-old had scored six goals in seven games with the Rockford IceHogs when the Blackhawks recalled him in late October. Those were great numbers for a team that, at the time, was struggling mightily to score. Well, Kero’s offensive output in Rockford hasn’t translated to Chicago. But his ability to play both sides of the puck and join the team’s penalty kill has led to him staying here a while longer.

Kero has a goal and an assist in 12 games with the Blackhawks but his all-around game has kept him here. Kero has bounced back and forth from third- or fourth-line center and has also been part of the penalty kill.

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“We gave him some responsibility in the penalty killing department and he’s taking advantage of it and he’s done a nice job," Coach Joel Quenneville said. "He’s a pretty good student of the game. He anticipates well, as far as his thought process goes. He has a reasonable stick, reasonable quickness, he wants the puck, he’s in and around the puck; so we like what he’s done across the board.”

Kero said he’s played on the penalty kill for several years now, so the only adjustment was to the Blackhawks’ system.

“Yeah, I mean I try to play as well as I can defensively and help out in that end as well. So to get the opportunity to play penalty kill, it’s been an honor to be out there and have them trust me to be out there,” Kero said. “I just want to do my best and kind of learn as I go and play whatever role they need me to play.”

Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said Kero broke out as a scorer in his senior season with the Huskies, recording his best college numbers in goals (20) and assists (23). But Pearson said Kero’s always been a reliable two-way player and that would be how he’d carve his NHL niche.

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“He was our hardest worker in practice. He was real good defensively, killed penalties. We were second in the country in team defense in college hockey last year, and we had guys like Tanner set that example,” Pearson said. “He’s a very smart player, he works extremely hard and is a really good skater. Given all those elements, I’m not surprised he’s off to a pretty good start.”

Kero always had a good game in college. But Pearson said he needed to add some grit to that game. So Kero went to the Minnesota Wild’s development camp between his junior and senior seasons. Pearson said the differences in Kero’s game showed during his senior season.

“That opened his eyes a little bit. He got a taste of how good players are; they work hard but also work at another level,” Pearson said. “It was his learning that what we call that sandbox mentality: two kids and one toy, one’s going to get it. You have to make sure you get it. That’s his biggest thing is learning to play with that mental toughness – not taking penalties, just being tough on loose puck battles, getting to the net.”

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Kero has worked hard to get to this point. He was brought up for his scoring. He’s stayed for his all-around game.

“You try to go day-to-day and just work hard, try to play both ends of the ice,” Kero said. “[Quenneville] really wants you to play well defensively and compete every day. So you’re trying to compete both ends of the ice and do well offensively and [I’ll] just try to contribute offensively when I can.”

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?