Blackhawks

Ryan Hartman's hat trick latest example of continued impact of Blackhawks' rookies

Ryan Hartman's hat trick latest example of continued impact of Blackhawks' rookies

Ryan Hartman’s latest contribution was a memorable one.

For him, it was a special individual moment getting that first career hat trick. Ultimately, however, it’s about how it helps and how he can help the Blackhawks.

“You’re not just in here just being another body. You’re trying to produce and help the team win,” Hartman said. “It feels good when you can put a few points up on the board and make some plays while you’re there.”

We’ve talked about the Blackhawks’ youth movement a lot this season, and with reason. This is a big part of the Blackhawks’ present, thanks in part to their constant salary-cap issues. And while there have been moments where the rookies have looked like rookies, more often they’ve shown they can hold their own.

Hartman, thanks to Sunday’s hat trick, now has 10 goals this season. Vinnie Hinostroza’s speed has benefited the top line — see this past weekend, when that speed helped the Blackhawks avoid a few icings. Tanner Kero has filled Marcus Kruger’s absence on the third line, which continues to look good regardless of personnel changes.

The rookies aren’t satisfied just making the roster. They want to make an impact, and the Blackhawks’ success depends on them doing that.

“We need these guys,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Sometimes they get more important minutes, so there’s some progression in their game. We’ll need them to play some important shifts and faceoffs in their own end and playing against top guys.”

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Kero is the latest to join the Blackhawks, making his season debut prior to the Christmas break. When Kruger got hurt Dec. 30 in Carolina it looked like the Blackhawks would lose a third line that was becoming very reliable. Now reconfigured with Hartman, Kero and Richard Panik, the third line has picked up where it left off.

“I feel like we’re creating chances,” said Kero, who has also been part of the Blackhawks’ penalty kill. “We’re just trying to work hard, be good defensively to start and then use our speed, get on their D, make them turn pucks over and try to create offense off the rush.”

General manager Stan Bowman said the Blackhawks will be patient with the rookies because their development is “more of a progression than it is an overnight thing.”

“These guys were all pretty big players on whatever team they were on the year before. They were a go-to guy. They don’t have that role here. But I think they’ve got that in them if we can stick with them and they can learn how to be in the NHL and be a professional,” Bowman said. “I think that’s the difference.”

The Blackhawks are trying to integrate everyone, regardless of age or experience. As Patrick Kane said earlier this season, “We don’t want to have young guys and veterans. We just want to be a team that’s firing on all cylinders.”

The rookies who are here now are making good contributions. A few in Rockford already have and could again. Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz, especially, have been playing well for the IceHogs. Motte has three goals and an assist in four games, and Schmaltz has six goals and two assists in 11 games.

There’s always a learning curve with rookies. But the progression and production has been there.

“That’s a learning curve that you’ll be playing against some top defensemen and top lines — see how you handle that — and play in some tight situations when games are on the line and the shifts get that much more importance. You get to find out a little more about the guys when they’re in that situation,” Quenneville said. “We need these guys to show progression in that area because we’re going to be counting on these guys in key times.”

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

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AP

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

If we're evaluating Stan Bowman's moves as a whole, we have to go back to July 1 when the 2018-19 season really started.

On that day, the Blackhawks announced three signings: Chris Kunitz (one year, $1 million), Brandon Manning (two years, $2.25 million cap hit) and Cam Ward (one year, $3 million). Not exactly splashy additions after missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years — although, to be fair, it wasn't a great market to throw money around.

Eleven days later, the Blackhawks traded Marian Hossa and his $5.275 million cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes in a seven-player deal that included top-nine winger Vinnie Hinostroza. Bowman acknowledged after the trade that he tried exploring every possible avenue before surrendering that the financial flexibility became more valuable.

But the trade might've put the team in a better position going into free agency had it been executed before July 1. Because of all that, Bowman's grade isn't looking great so far.

Then we get into the actual regular season.

The biggest move Bowman made was the coaching change on Nov. 6 in going from future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville to Jeremy Colliton, which was a controversial decision in and of itself, especially the timing of it.

“There’s no perfect way to do things," Bowman admitted. "I think we made the best of it at the time. It’s one of those things where you’ve just gotta get through it. I think he’s gonna benefit from not only having a training camp next year but also we had this whole long stretch of a season. ... We’ve got a lot more things we want to get to, and I think we did a good job of — it’s a good start, but I’m sure Jeremy will tell you that we want to be way better next year and we’re gonna push our players to be better. We’re gonna try to do things differently. It’s not just taking this exact same program and we’ll start that. We want to do different things as well and enhance our team. I think there’s reason for hope there.”

Where did Bowman start to earn high marks? The roster tinkering, beginning in late November.

Perhaps recognizing that Nick Schmaltz wasn't progressing the way the team would have liked in a contract season, Bowman dealt him for a potential future second-line center in Dylan Strome and replenished the top-nine forward they lost in Hinostroza with Brendan Perlini, who showed flashes down the stretch. That's turned out to be a win-win for both sides.

The trade that was very clearly one-sided is the one Bowman pulled off with Peter Chiarelli, who was later relieved of his GM duties with the Edmonton Oilers.

Not only did Bowman acquire rugged winger Drake Caggiula, who became such a valuable part of the Blackhawks' second-half turnaround because he was a perfect complement for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line, but he unloaded the contract of Manning without having to retain salary or giving up an important piece of the roster. It essentially gave the Blackhawks an extra $2.25 million to work with this summer, which shouldn't go unnoticed when you look at how deep the 2019 free agent class is.

Bowman essentially undid the mistake he made and put the Blackhawks in an even better position going into this offseason by adding a useful player on top of it. So he certainly upped his overall grade.

Now it's time to spend the money he cleared in getting rid of the contracts of Hossa and Manning, and continue building around the current core.

"We're not going to bring the same group back," Bowman said. "That's clear. We don't do that really any year. There's changes to every team, even a team that ends up winning the Cup this year will have some different players. We're going to have some new players next year. What we're going to do is try to improve in the areas where our team needs some help and the way that looks isn't completely clear right now, but we have time over the next couple months to dive in and look at our team in greater detail and figure out how we're going to make that happen.

"There's obviously free agent signings, there's trades, there's growth from within. Those are the ways that your team improves from year to year and we're going to do that. So we're going to have some new players here next year for sure but we have a lot of players that are going to be back and I think a lot of the key guys who had good seasons they're coming back for sure, so we don't need across the board changes but we do need some new players."

Front office: B-

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