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.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”