Blackhawks prospects balancing NHL opportunity and development


Blackhawks prospects balancing NHL opportunity and development

The Blackhawks have been forced to make some tough roster decisions this offseason — shipping fan-favorites Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp out of Chicago — due to salary cap restraints. But with that comes an opportunity for others to step up, particularly young players within the organization. 

Marko Dano is one of them.

The 20-year-old forward who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of the Saad trade showed some real promise in 35 regular-season games last season, recording eight goals and 13 assists. Dano immediately becomes one of the frontrunners to crack the NHL roster and make an early impact, but he's also looking to learn along the way, especially from his idol Marian Hossa.

"It's a great opportunity for me to be on one team with [Hossa]," Dano told at the eighth annual Blackhawks Convention over the weekend. "There's a lot of things I could learn from him and all those other guys."

[MORE: Blackhawks: Schmaltz striving for improvement at prospect camp]

Ryan Hartman is another prospect knocking on the door. 

The Blackhawks' 2013 first-round pick spent the majority of last season with the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs, where he tallied 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 69 regular-season games and added two goals and an assist in eight postseason contests. Hartman, a Chicago native, also made his presence felt in five games with the Blackhawks last season.

While he certainly understands the importance of development, Hartman is looking to build off his brief stint in the NHL last year and seize the opportunity if and when he gets it again.

"Obviously there's some room for guys to hop in and I'm sure there's going to be a lot of guys up and down throughout the year," Hartman said. "Whenever you do get your chance, you just got to take advantage of that opportunity and hopefully you can stay as long as possible. That's kind of the mindset going into the season."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the more exciting prospects is Nick Schmaltz, who drew some high remarks from general manager Stan Bowman — "He was very impressive all week" — at prospect camp. Schmaltz — the 20th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft — continues to stand out at every level, and said he's gotten "a little stronger" this summer.

It may be tempting for Schmaltz, who grew up a Blackhawks fan, to rush the process, but the 19-year-old forward is staying patient and continues to focus on his development.

"I'm just trying to focus on my season and just getting better and what I need to do to get to the next level," Schmaltz said. "Obviously I want to get there as soon as I can, but whatever it takes to get there, if I need to develop longer in the minors or wherever, as long as one day I get there I'll be happy."

While competing for and solidifying a roster spot with the Blackhawks may be the ultimate goal, all three players are committed to improving their own game that will pay dividends in the NHL, which could be sooner rather than later.

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.