Nick Schmaltz lifted Mike Ribeiro’s stick just enough to get control of the puck before skating back to the middle and scoring his first career NHL goal.
It was a slick play, one showing the ability Schmaltz already had. But be it with him or some of the other young players, the Blackhawks figured it was going to take some time for that talent to come through on the bigger stage. So far, however, the adjustment time hasn’t been so large.
Tyler Motte has been good since the start of camp and earned some second-line work out of it. Vinnie Hinostroza’s speed and energy earned him a top-line shot on Saturday. Coach Joel Quenneville has been very happy with Gustav Forsling and Michal Kempny on defense. Yes, Kempny may be a few years older than some of the Blackhawks’ other first-year players but playing on this side of the pond is still very new to him.
Schmaltz had his best game on Saturday, when he got that first goal in the Blackhawks’ victory over the Nashville Predators. He admitted afterward that jitters may have affected him in his first two games – it didn’t help that the Blackhawks’ fourth line barely played in the season opener, either. By the end of Friday’s game in Nashville, Schmaltz looked more comfortable and that carried over to Saturday.
“I think you have a little more time than you think,” he said Saturday night. “I think in the first couple games I was just kind of chipping it, because I was kind of nervous to have it. But I’ve got to focus on playing my game and that’s controlling the puck.”
Really, for some of these guys, that’s probably the trick: recognize you’re in a bigger, better league but don’t become overwhelmed by it. It’s not easy, but ultimately that “play-your-game” cliché holds true.
“I’m not going to come out and try and play a different game. Coaches and guys have told me that,” Motte said recently. “I may be on a bigger stage… but the sport’s no different.”
And it also takes an organization being patient with young players. The Blackhawks, who have once again gone through big changes with the salary cap are in the position where they have to give these guys a real chance.
“You have to give them that adjustment period. For some guys it can happen within a couple weeks or a month. Other guys it takes almost a whole year. They’ve never played in these buildings before. It seems maybe silly, but little things like that. You have to get through that at some point,” general manager Stan Bowman said this weekend. “But I think you if you can hang in there with these guys, they’re going to be better players once they acclimate to the NHL because they have growth to their game.”
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There are going to be growing pains. There are going to be mistakes; players are human, no matter how many years they’ve been in the league. As Quenneville said following the season opener, “there’ll definitely be some learning going on and we’ll be accepting mistakes from hard work, because that’s where you get better.”
But so far, the youth has been progressing just fine.