For young players on the Blackhawks this season, opportunities abound. Nick Schmaltz is about to get another shot at a big one Wednesday night.
Schmaltz will get another shot on the Blackhawks’ top line when the team visits St. Louis. The North Dakota product, who is getting more comfortable again at wing — he played some there in college, too — is relishing the chance and knows how he has to approach it.
“Just playing my game and obviously try to get them the puck as much as I can,” Schmaltz said. “These guys are good players, so I’ll just try to get open and make plays out there. They’re high-skill guys, and I think I can bring a good piece to help them out.”
Schmaltz finished Sunday’s game on the top line, replacing Richard Panik, who started off well but has cooled in recent games. That, and not long after that trio was thrown together for the first time, it resulted in a goal — Kane from Toews. So why not give it another shot?
“We happened to score on it, and it’s something down the road we wanted to try. So we liked it this morning, and we’ll see how it goes forward,” Quenneville said of the combination. “For (Schmaltz) to gain experience playing with those two guys, it’s a great opportunity to play to your strengths, knowing quality and quantity of ice time will be determined by how he plays. The quality is as good as it gets; some of his strengths are complimentary to Jonny and Kaner.”
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Indeed, Kane was impressed with Schmaltz in the brief time they were together on Sunday.
“One thing that’s underrated about him is his speed. He can make plays coming down the wing. He’s really good at turning up and finding the guy, or making a play off that turn,” Kane said. “When he came on our line we had the puck a little bit more. He was really good. He’s a little similar to (Artemi) Panarin in the way he plays. Just try to not necessarily recreate that but play a similar style, try to get each other in the same areas and hopefully create that way.”
Schmaltz is right: Getting Toews and Kane the puck often is key. At the same time, he can’t overdo that. Remember back to last season when Teuvo Teravainen, admittedly, was more focused on getting Toews and Marian Hossa the puck and not taking plays or shots when he had them? Schmaltz is on the top line because Quenneville thinks he can mesh, create and produce with that line. He has to be himself.
“That’s one thing we’ll probably talk to him about: just play his game, not worry about fitting in with us, trying to get us the puck,” Kane said. “If he plays his game everything will add up and it’ll be all right.”
Schmaltz has a great opportunity ahead of him. It’ll be a little daunting playing with the Blackhawks’ top two players, but Schmaltz knows how he has to play.
“I think I can simplify as much as I can,” he said. “Try to get them the puck when I can but just try to play my game, not overthink anything and I should be fine.”