Former Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz was dealt a tough hand last season. The Hawks traded the Madison, Wisc., native to the Arizona Coyotes for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini on Nov. 25, 2018.
"Probably for the first couple weeks it was still shocking and different to be part of a new organization," Schmaltz said. "But as you get more comfortable with everyone, I would say a couple months probably before it sunk in, but I felt comfortable right away."
Then, after recording 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 games with the Coyotes, Schmaltz had season-ending knee surgery.
"It was tough," the 23-year-old said. "It wasn't like one specific thing that blew out my knee or anything, it was just nagging me over time. Obviously it was tough, I had to sit out 40 games or whatever.
"So that was frustrating, especially because the team was doing well and I was feeling really comfortable. So it was frustrating, but happy to be back and we got off to a good start so far (currently second in the Pacific division)."
Some good fortune came Schmaltz's way when Arizona gave him a seven-year contract for $40.95 million in March.
Sunday marks his first game back at the United Center.
"I think I'll have a lot of energy," said Schmaltz, who will have family in attendance. "I think I'll be excited. I don't think there'll be too many nerves or anything, I think it'll be fun to play against those guys and I'll be ready to go."
Schmaltz logged a lot of ice time playing with Patrick Kane when he was with Chicago from 2016-2018.
"He was great to play with," Kane said of Schmaltz. "One of those guys I really enjoyed playing with because he was so fast and as a centerman he really did a good job of taking the puck up the middle of the ice, drawing guys to him then kind of kicking it to the wing and still driving through his feet to the point where the defense had to decide whether to honor him and go back to him or come with me and leave him open.
"He was really good in that regard, a lot of speed up the middle. I really enjoyed playing with him and developing chemistry with him the years he was here.
"He's a good kid too. I really enjoyed being around him, hanging out with him, golfing with him, things like that. I enjoyed his time here."
Schmaltz's unique golfing style impressed Kane as much as his hockey skills did.
"Really good," Kane said of his former teammate's golf game. "It's funny when he hits it, the ball doesn't come very far off the ground, but it just goes a mile and he does the opposite with his irons, he hits them so high and then they just land and stop. He's a good golfer."
"He's got his days, he's kind of up and down," Schmaltz said of Kane swinging the clubs. "He can go low 80s or he can fire 100, it just depends how he's feeling. We've had a few games. It's a lot of fun playing with him."
The Blackhawks recalled forward Dylan Sikura from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, the team announced Sunday morning. In a corresponding move for financial reasons, Anton Wedin was reassigned to Rockford after four games with the Blackhawks.
Sikura leads the IceHogs in goals (nine), points (16) and shots on goal (99) in 22 games this season. He was on a three-game point streak (one goal, two assists) prior to the call-up.
Back in Chicago for the third year — first this season — Sikura is out to prove he can stay for good.
"I think this time around just prove that I can play, I can stay, be an everyday kind of guy up here," Sikura said. "There's times last year towards the end of the year where I was proving myself a little bit and I'm excited to get a fresh start and another chance here."
The biggest challenge for Sikura in the NHL has always been making the most of the minutes he gets at even strength. In college, he played in all situations. In Rockford, he was a top-line player and a key piece to the first power-play unit.
But it's difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago on a roster with Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews carrying the offensive load.
Sikura has 11 assists in 38 games across two seasons with the Blackhawks, but he's still searching for his first career NHL goal, which is something that weighed on his mind going into the summer. He takes a lot of pride in contributing on the scoresheet, and he's hoping the goals come naturally for him this time around.
"Absolutely," a smiling Sikura said. "I think that's something that's important for me. Down there, I get opportunities to score goals and obviously that's something I'd like to do at this level so hopefully we can put this to rest soon."
Sunday's game against the Arizona Coyotes will be Sikura's third in as many days. He played in Grand Rapids on Friday, Rockford on Saturday, got the call-up after the game and drove to Chicago around midnight.
It's unclear where he'll slot into the lineup, but the Blackhawks are pleased with his body of work and felt it was time to give Sikura a shot with the big club.
"I think he showed that he can contribute with us with his pace of play," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought his line, when I looked back at him, Toews and Saad [last season], they had a really good stretch where they were driving possession and giving us offensive zone time and that line came through with some production too. He didn't necessarily score, but he was a part of that.
"Just energy and work ethic, and he has some skill too. But it's not unlike a lot of young players — just finding a way to do it every single shift every single night. We're looking for that throughout our lineup, so if he can bring it that'll help him."
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