SAN FRANCISCO – Tanner Kero’s trip to the Blackhawks was originally to spark the big club’s offense.
The 23-year-old had scored six goals in seven games with the Rockford IceHogs when the Blackhawks recalled him in late October. Those were great numbers for a team that, at the time, was struggling mightily to score. Well, Kero’s offensive output in Rockford hasn’t translated to Chicago. But his ability to play both sides of the puck and join the team’s penalty kill has led to him staying here a while longer.
Kero has a goal and an assist in 12 games with the Blackhawks but his all-around game has kept him here. Kero has bounced back and forth from third- or fourth-line center and has also been part of the penalty kill.
“We gave him some responsibility in the penalty killing department and he’s taking advantage of it and he’s done a nice job," Coach Joel Quenneville said. "He’s a pretty good student of the game. He anticipates well, as far as his thought process goes. He has a reasonable stick, reasonable quickness, he wants the puck, he’s in and around the puck; so we like what he’s done across the board.”
Kero said he’s played on the penalty kill for several years now, so the only adjustment was to the Blackhawks’ system.
“Yeah, I mean I try to play as well as I can defensively and help out in that end as well. So to get the opportunity to play penalty kill, it’s been an honor to be out there and have them trust me to be out there,” Kero said. “I just want to do my best and kind of learn as I go and play whatever role they need me to play.”
Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said Kero broke out as a scorer in his senior season with the Huskies, recording his best college numbers in goals (20) and assists (23). But Pearson said Kero’s always been a reliable two-way player and that would be how he’d carve his NHL niche.
“He was our hardest worker in practice. He was real good defensively, killed penalties. We were second in the country in team defense in college hockey last year, and we had guys like Tanner set that example,” Pearson said. “He’s a very smart player, he works extremely hard and is a really good skater. Given all those elements, I’m not surprised he’s off to a pretty good start.”
Kero always had a good game in college. But Pearson said he needed to add some grit to that game. So Kero went to the Minnesota Wild’s development camp between his junior and senior seasons. Pearson said the differences in Kero’s game showed during his senior season.
“That opened his eyes a little bit. He got a taste of how good players are; they work hard but also work at another level,” Pearson said. “It was his learning that what we call that sandbox mentality: two kids and one toy, one’s going to get it. You have to make sure you get it. That’s his biggest thing is learning to play with that mental toughness – not taking penalties, just being tough on loose puck battles, getting to the net.”
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Kero has worked hard to get to this point. He was brought up for his scoring. He’s stayed for his all-around game.
“You try to go day-to-day and just work hard, try to play both ends of the ice,” Kero said. “[Quenneville] really wants you to play well defensively and compete every day. So you’re trying to compete both ends of the ice and do well offensively and [I’ll] just try to contribute offensively when I can.”