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.”