For the first time since their Stanly Cup run began in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks have opted to infuse a healthy dose of youth into their lineup. Heading into Tuesday’s game against Florida, six rookies had played at least 14 games alongside veterans Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith Niklas and Brent Seabrook, who have won three Cups in the last seven seasons.
It’s been a mixed bag for Chicago, which has suffered from a lack of balanced scoring, but is still 10th in the NHL in goals per game (2.83) and 13th in goals against per game (2.52). None of the half dozen rookies has made anything close to the impact Artemi Panarin made last season when he won the Calder Trophy with 77 points, but there have been some solid contributions.
The hope — the necessity — for Chicago is that two or three of these players will progress enough to be bigger contributors by the time the postseason arrives. Chicago will not advance far with only two lines contributing offense and its overall possession numbers (51.01 CF%, 11th in NHL) languishing in the middle of the pack.
Here is a look at Chicago’s six rookies through Monday’s games.
F Ryan Hartman
Stats: 18 games, 5 goals, 1 assist, TOI 10:54, 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage (CF%) 56.53
Hartman, 22, began the team’s annual circus trip as a healthy scratch in Winnipeg. He ended the trip with three goals in the final six games. His five goals are as many as the other three rookie forwards have combined.
Hartman’s job this season was to replace the gritty Andrew Shaw, whom the Blackhawks let walk as a free agent to Montreal where he signed a six-year, $23.4 million deal. He has filled that role increasingly well and has probably been Chicago’s most effective rookie forward. That’s all well and good, but it also means the Hawks aren’t getting enough production from their other rookie forwards who were supposed to have greater offensive upside.
F Tyler Motte
18 games, 3 goals, 3 assists, TOI 12:29, 5-on-5 CF% 46.59
Motte suffered a lower-body injury on Nov. 6 against Dallas when he crashed into the boards. To that point, he had three goals and three assists in his first 12 games, and was playing the best of the Hawks’ four rookie forwards. Remember this spectacular goal?
Since returning, Motte, 21, has had a hard time getting going again. He has no points in his last six games and his possession numbers are troubling. Of all the rookies, the Hawks had the highest hopes for production from Motte. He will be a critical player to watch over the season’s final three quarters.
F Nick Schmaltz
23 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, TOI 11:53, 5-on-5 CF% 49.38
Schmaltz is earning more and more trust from coach Joel Quenneville with a strong two-way game and excellent skating skills. Schmaltz is strong on the puck and has some skills as a passer.
Like many of the Hawks’ rookie forwards, Schmaltz, 20, was a better point producer at the lower levels but that ability has yet to surface at the NHL level. Some of that is because he jumped all over the lineup; some of it is because Schmaltz isn’t as offensively gifted as Motte or Vinnie Hinostroza.
F Vincent Hinostroza
14 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, TOI 10:39, 5-on-5 CF% 50.61
All of Hinostroza’s points came in one game against Vancouver. Coach Joel Quenneville has been careful with the situations in which he has used Hinostroza, which has helped his line generate shots. Hinostroza has 14 shots in his last seven games after generating just three in his first seven, but it hasn’t translated into production.
At 5’9″, Hinostroza, 22, has to be a strong possession player because he’s not going to win a lot of board battles or one-on-one battles due to a lack of strength. He needs to bring a dynamic element to the lineup.
D Michal Kempny
19 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, TOI 16:16, 5-on-5 CF% 56.56
Kempny may be the biggest find for the ‘Hawks this season after signing a one-year free-agent deal. At 26, his solid, mature play has allowed Quenneville to balance his defensive pairings a bit more, playing Kempny with the more offensive-minded Brent Seabrook while Duncan Keith is paired with Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson is paired with rookie Gustav Forsling most frequently.
Kempny doesn’t have great offensive skills, but his possession numbers are so good that it’s hard to argue with what he has brought to the table. At the quarter-mark of the season he is the team’s rookie of the year.
D Gustav Forsling
20 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, TOI 15:50, 5-on-5 CF% 43.48
TSN game analyst Ray Ferraro believes the Blackhawks robbed Vancouver when they sent Adam Clendening to the Canucks for Forsling in January 2015. Forsling, 20, has excellent offensive skills and Ferraro believes he’ll be able to run a power play for the Hawks when he matures.
The problem for Forsling early in his career has been defensive-zone play and a penchant for rushed or careless passes, both in his own zone and at the offensive blue line, that result in turnovers. Every one of Forsling’s defensive partners has better possession numbers playing away from him than with him.
Forsling can’t be sent down to the American Hockey League due to a complex agreement between his Swedish team, Linköpings HC, and the Blackhawks. His options are getting sent back to Sweden while Chicago burns a year of his contract, or keep playing in the NHL. Quenneville has the luxury of the latter right now because the Blackhawks banked so many early points and sit atop the Western Conference standings.