It was interesting who Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton chose to single out and praise during his end of the year Zoom conference call on Friday when asked about what the Hawks can do to take the next step for the 2020-21 season.
The 35-year-old Chicago coach, who won his first NHL postseason series Aug. 7 in the qualifying round against the Oilers 4-1, pointed to 24-year-old forward Matthew Higmore's performance in the playoffs as to how he wants the team to play moving forward for a better shot at a deeper run next time around.
"He doesn’t play 25 shifts in a game, but the shifts he gets he knows exactly what he’s supposed to do," Colliton said of Highmore, who made his postseason debut in Edmonton, playing in all nine of the Hawks' games in the bubble. "He goes out there, he does it 100 miles an hour, he doesn’t cheat, he wins 50-50s, he advances the puck, he gets it in, he goes to the net.
"That line scored three or four goals at least in the series playing against top-line competition. It’s just because he’s willing to do the right thing. I thought the other guys did too, and then he gets off. He doesn’t extend his shift, he doesn’t hang around in the offensive zone hoping to get a goal or get a second assist or a get a plus (rating). If he started in D-zone, gets it out of D-zone, gets it in and 35 seconds in the alarm bells are going off in his head that he’s got to get off so that Patrick Kane can step on in a good spot, maybe playing against tired guys or in the offensive zone or on an offensive zone faceoff. We need more of that, we need it up and down the lineup.
"We’ll be a much better team defensively because we’ll be defending when we’re fresh, we’ll have a better forecheck because we’re forechecking against tired guys, we’ll draw more penalties. You build energy in your group because you see people making team decisions and having a team-first mentality. And that’s how you win."
Highmore, passed over twice in the NHL Draft, had four points (three goals, one assist) in the 2020 postseason. During the 2019-20 regular season, before the NHL pause on March 12, he had six points (two goals, four assists) in 36 games with Chicago. He also had two goals in 13 games during his first year getting a look from the Hawks — 2017-18 — before suffering a right-shoulder injury that had him miss most of last year, only playing in nine games with the Blackhawks' American Hockey League affiliate the Rockford IceHogs.