Tanner Kero looking to make most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Tanner Kero looking to make most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Vinnie Hinostroza yelled “Tanner!” as Tanner Kero came onto the ice for the Blackhawks’ practice on Thursday. He did it again as Kero was about to talk to the media a few minutes later.

“He’s a pretty shy kid so I’m trying to get him to open up a little bit,” Hinostroza said. “We’re pretty good buddies, so it’s always good to see him come into the locker room.”

The Blackhawks’ locker room that Kero walked into on Thursday isn’t so strange to him now, thanks to the 17 games he played here last season. At that time, Kero was recalled from Rockford after putting up strong scoring numbers with the IceHogs. On another productive streak with the IceHogs, Kero’s getting another chance.

Kero was recalled on Thursday morning, as the Blackhawks put center Artem Anisimov on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. The 24-year-old Kero has seven goals and 13 assists for the IceHogs; he said the team, overall, has been finding more success lately and he’s just been part of that.

“As a group we've been playing a lot better the last few games,” Kero said. “We're focusing more on being responsible defensively and just being a little smarter in the offensive zone, keeping a higher guy and worrying about that aspect of the game and now our offense is starting to show.”

It’s been a good few weeks for Kero in general. Not only is he getting this call after a productive early season with Rockford, but he became a father to a baby boy about a month ago. Juggling hockey and parenthood has been interesting, but thrilling.

“It's a little adjustment, but it's been awesome,” Kero said with a smile. “It's crazy. It's that new adjustment right now. But it's been fun.”

As for this latest trip to Chicago, Kero said he feels, “a little more comfortable” this time around. He still expects some adjustments come game time; nevertheless, coach Joel Quenneville said past experience should help Kero.

“He’s made good progress in his development,” Quenneville said. “Last year, we liked him a lot. I thought he did a great job for us for first time being a pro and then coming up and getting some meaningful ice time, good responsibilities and just watching him practice, there’s an appreciation for watching him play and thinking I like what we saw.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Kero could also get some added responsibility right out of the gate.

“He’s going to get a chance probably to play in some situations, maybe kill penalties for us because we know he’s responsible,” Quenneville said. “He has good patience with the puck. His quickness and his speed, it looks like he can handle the NHL.”

Kero’s time with the Blackhawks may not be too long this time around. Quenneville said he’s hopeful Anisimov and Marian Hossa, also out with an upper-body injury, could return Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets. Regardless this is a great chance for Kero, and he’ll take advantage of it.

“You try not to think too much about it,” Kero said of how long you stay with the big club. “You just go out every shift and try and work hard and prove that you earned that spot here and that you kind of belong [here]. So you just want to go shift by shift and just play it from there.”

Brian Campbell on Adam Boqvist's progression and preaching patience in his development

Brian Campbell on Adam Boqvist's progression and preaching patience in his development

The breakout star of Blackhawks development camp in July was undoubtedly Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018. It was evident how much his game has grown over the past year.

Former Blackhawks defenseman — and now player development coach — Brian Campbell worked closely with Boqvist this past season and raved about the steps he took with the London Knights in the OHL. But Campbell is also preaching patience in Boqvist's development. Boqvist just turned 19 on Thursday, and it's important to let him develop at his own pace.

“Yeah, I was impressed," Campbell said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Obviously, he’s come a long way in a year from last development camp. There’s no pressure being put on him. He’ll develop at his time. If he pushes for a spot, great, but I just don’t want people to get away. There’s a lot to keep learning and he wants to learn, which is the greatest thing. His teammates love him: great thing. He wants to do extra and learn the game: great thing. He is preparing himself days before, even in development camp, he’s preparing himself days before. So all great things and he’s on the right path.

"Hopefully that happens and maybe it does happen but if it doesn’t then that’s not the case and he keeps getting better and wants to keep getting better. Definitely, we know his skill level is there and I think he’s taken a huge step in the last year in preparing himself and knowing how to prepare as a pro player now. There’s a lot of great things there, and hopefully he does do that, but for me, I just don’t want to put too much on him right now. He’s turning 19 soon so he’s still a really young kid and it’s a tough position to play at a pro level. Believe me, I’m smiling, but I just don’t want to force the issue too much. Hopefully he can do some great things, but if he doesn’t, then that’s OK too.” 

Drake Caggiula looks back on how he could've played with Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome in OHL

Drake Caggiula looks back on how he could've played with Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome in OHL

Drake Caggiula had a successful college hockey career. He compiled 127 points (62 goals, 65 assists) in 162 career games across four seasons at North Dakota, and served as an alternate captain during his senior year.

But before committing to college, Caggiula was being recruited by the Erie Otters of the OHL and there could've been a moment where he played with Connor McDavid and current teammates Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome all at the same time.

“I remember telling Sherry Bassin, the GM of Erie, how I was going to go to college," Caggiula said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "He kept reiterating that, 'at 16 years old, we’re not going to be that great. But at 17, we’re going to be a little bit better, but not great. But at 18 and 19, those are going to be your big years and we’re going to have a really good team and we’re going to surround you with good players.’ I mean, that’s two years in the future so it’s hard to really see that.

"Looking back at it now, the players that I could have played with, they had some pretty talented players go through Erie. Even Dylan Larkin was an Erie draft pick and ended up going to Michigan. It could have been a pretty talented team there so it’s kind of funny to see how it all works out. We’re all here today coming from different paths so it’s pretty cool.”

Any chirps from the guys about his decision now?

“Yeah, Connor [McDavid] used to make fun of me all the time, you know? ‘Oh, we would have won the Memorial Cup if you would have joined the team!’ and all that sort of stuff," Caggiula joked. "We talk about it a little bit just here and there saying, ‘what a team we could have had and imagine who we would have been playing with and now we’re all here together. What if we all would have started in Erie together and now we’re here together?’ It just would have been a pretty cool story. It’s obviously something that we can’t control but it’s definitely something that you can look back at and laugh at.”

Check out the interview in the video above.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.