Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz on the art of pickpocketing

nick_schmaltz_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz on the art of pickpocketing

Nick Schmaltz is known for being an offensively-gifted playmaker.

But he has turned into one of the NHL's best at a key defensive part of the game: pickpocketing. In hockey terms, that is.

In Sunday's contest alone, Schmaltz recorded four takeaways — two of which came within a 19-second span — to give him 14 on the season, which trails Shea Theodore by three for the league lead. A year ago Schmaltz finished third among all skaters with 86; only Jeff Skinner (93) and Connor McDavid (111) had more, putting him with some pretty good company.

So what makes him so good at it?

"I kind of try to be deceptive," Schmaltz said. "Whether I'm chasing a guy, act like I'm not skating very hard and then once you can tell he gets lazy with the puck, you don't know if he just forgets about me behind him, that's when I take three or four hard strides; I use a longer stick so I just reach and pick and turn away."

Schmaltz has an extremely quick stick-lift and has the ability to turn away just as fast, whether it's on his forehand or backhand, which was evident in this example from one of his four takeaways against the Edmonton Oilers:

Not only did it help prevent a scoring chance, but it also gave the Blackhawks a chance to create one on the other end.

"I've never really been a physical guy, so that's kind of been my way of getting pucks back and just sustaining stuff in the offensive zone, is having a good stick," Schmaltz said. "A lot of those plays when you can make a turnover like that, you can create a 2-on-1 quick or a 3-on-2 the other way and that's a big part of the game. I don't know if it's really talked about that much, but it's kind of an underrated part of the game. There are a lot of guys in the league that have really good sticks. I like doing it too, it's a good feeling when you can strip a guy from behind."

In the fifth game of the season against the St. Louis Blues, Schmaltz showed the ability to do exactly what he mentioned above all in one shift: take a few hard strides, catch the puckholder napping, use his quick stick to steal the puck and, in doing so, create a prime scoring chance for himself:

It's a talent coaches certainly appreciate when an offensive player can make such a subtle, but potential big impact on the game by something he does defensively.

"He's got some quickness and then all of a sudden he gets on the guy quicker," Joel Quenneville said. "He's got some strength on the stick a little bit more this year and the way he does it, it's almost like from one direction to the other direction, it's pretty good because he doesn't have any pressure on him when he does take the puck away and I think that's a great way of creating an odd-man situation the other way."

The Blackhawks were spoiled for nearly a decade with Marian Hossa, who was one of the best at pickpocketing puck carriers in large part because he backchecked harder than anyone we've ever seen. Pavel Datsyuk is arguably the greatest to ever do it and Schmaltz remembers the time they both pickpocketed each other on one shift in a game during the 2014-15 season.

"Hossa was one of the best," Schmaltz said. "Probably my favorite was Datsyuk. I was looking up his stats one year in takeaways, he had like 144 or something in one year (2007-08), it's like, 'Holy cow.' That guy was the best at it though. I remember that one shift with Hossa and Datsyuk, where they went back and forth in the neutral zone like 10-feet apart, they were just picking each other back and forth. He's definitely one of the best and someone I followed closely."

Here's the play Schmaltz is referring to, which is a video clip every aspiring hockey player should have in their file book:

Pickpocketing has always been a part of Schmaltz's game, but he didn't realize it could become a dangerous weapon until college when he was at North Dakota. Now we're seeing him do it successfully at the NHL level against the best players in the world.

It's a real weapon the Blackhawks could use to their advantage. And you know what they say: great defense often leads to better offense.

"I've used it more and more in my game when I started playing with more pace both ways, coming back harder, playing defensively, and that just leads to good transition offense," Schmaltz said. "I don't really know when, probably my second year in college I figured out I was pretty good at it. It's a big part of our team game. We always harp on back pressure and coming back and stripping guys from behind and I enjoy doing it. Hopefully I can keep that up."

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 4 win over Sharks

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 4 win over Sharks

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, NBC Sports Chicago is re-airing each of the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins from the run that ended a 49-year championship drought. You can join the conversation using #HawksRewind on social media.

After taking a 3-0 series lead, the Blackhawks had an opportunity to clinch a berth to the Stanley Cup Final at home in Game 4. And that's exactly what they did, beating the San Jose Sharks 4-2 to complete the sweep in the Western Conference Final. Here are three things we noticed in the win:

1. Dustin Byfuglien for the win

Byfuglien was really good in the Vancouver series. He was great against San Jose.

To cap off the Western Conference Final, Byfuglien scored the go-ahead goal with 5:55 left in regulation to put the Blackhawks in front 3-2. It was his fifth straight game with a goal, and third game-winner (all against San Jose).

Big Buff put a stamp on his work in Game 4 and it was a treat to watch.

2. A defensive clinic

The Blackhawks were a high-powered offense in 2010, but Game 4 was all about the defense.

The Blackhawks allowed a postseason-low 18 shots on goal and four high-danger chances in 60 minutes, according to Natural Stat Trick. Antti Niemi faced only three shots in the third period. It was a defensive masterpiece in an elimination game.

3. The tightest series of them all

The Blackhawks were better than the Nashville Predators in the first round. They were better than the Vancouver Canucks in the second round. And while they may have swept the Sharks, this was as even a series as you could find in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

In fact, the Sharks led in shot attempts (269-247), shots on goal (136-127), scoring chances (116-94) and high-danger chances (43-25), according to Natural Stat Trick. All four games could've gone either way, but the Blackhawks delivered in the clutchest ways, particularly on special teams, and it's why they didn't lose.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Pat Stapleton, former Blackhawks captain, dies at 79 due to complications from a stroke

pat_stapleton_ap.jpg
AP

Pat Stapleton, former Blackhawks captain, dies at 79 due to complications from a stroke

Pat Stapleton, who served as the Blackhawks' captain during the 1969-70 season, died Wednesday night due to complications from a stroke. He was 79.

"The Chicago Blackhawks organization would like to express their deepest sympathy to the family, friends and former teammates of Pat Stapleton who passed away last night at the age of 79 due to complications from a stroke," the Blackhawks said Thursday in a statement. "As a former team captain and valued member of the Blackhawks Alumni Association, Stapleton’s contributions to the organization will forever be remembered by the entire Blackhawks community.”

Stapleton spent eight of his 10 NHL seasons in Chicago, where he racked up 327 points (41 goals, 286 assists) in 545 regular-season games and 49 points (10 goals, 39 assists) in 65 postseason contests from 1965-73. His best season came in 1968-69 when he became the second defenseman in league history to record 50 assists in a single season.

Stapleton was a three-time second-team NHL All-Star and finished inside the Top 4 in Norris Trophy voting three times as a member of the Blackhawks. His son, Mike, also played five seasons in Chicago from 1986-92.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.