When looking back on the 2017-18 season, it's easy to single out Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz as the two most notable silver linings for the Blackhawks, both of whom showed real promise as important pieces going forward.
But lost in the shuffle — or quietly flying under the radar — has been Vinnie Hinostroza, in part because he started the year in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs when he probably didn't deserve to.
"Obviously I wanted to start off the year here, but going down there, I knew that if I played well I'd be back up here and that's what they told me leaving camp," Hinostroza said. "I got to go down there, play a lot of minutes, play in every situation. I learned a lot and I think it helped my game."
It was perhaps more-so a numbers game, and Hinostroza was a guy the Blackhawks could send to Rockford without having to go through the waiver process. It also wasn't the worst thing for his long-term development.
Not surprisingly, Hinostroza flourished with the IceHogs by averaging nearly a point-per-game with nine goals and 13 assists in 23 games. He was more than ready to be promoted.
It just took a while because the Blackhawks were carrying the maximum amount of skaters (23) and there weren't any injuries to open up a spot.
Eventually, the Blackhawks decided they couldn't ignore his offensive production any longer and placed Tanner Kero on waivers — which he cleared — to make room for Hinostroza, who was recalled on Dec. 8.
And when he finally got his chance with the big club, Hinostroza took advantage.
He set career-highs in all three scoring categories with seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points in 50 games despite having only two points in the final 15 contests.
The underlying numbers supported his value, too.
When Hinostroza was on the ice at even strength, the Blackhawks controlled 54.57 percent of the shot attempts and had a high-danger Goals For percentage of 58.33, according to naturalstattrick.com.
He also had a points-per-60 minutes rate of 1.98 during 5-on-5 play; only Patrick Kane had a higher one (2.16) on the Blackhawks.
Hinostroza did all this while bouncing around from the first line to the fourth line, meaning it gave Joel Quenneville the luxury to put him anywhere and expect his offensive production to stay the same. His versatility in that sense, along with being able to play any of the three forward positions, makes him a valuable piece of this club.
The Blackhawks know that, and envision him as part of the long-term picture. Not bad for the Bartlett native who was taken in the sixth round (169th overall) in 2012 by his hometown team.
"I want to make it clear our No. 1 priority as we move forward is to make sure we can keep these young players — DeBrincat and Schmaltz and Hinostroza and some other young players that are going to maybe join our team over the next year or two," GM Stan Bowman said. "That's the direction that we're headed, and we want those guys to be Blackhawks and to take a bigger role."