As the regular season begins in just a couple of days, the Chicago Blackhawks are looking to improve on their early exit last season. Over the next few weeks, Blackhawk Up will give projections for the stats of each player heading into the season, based off the trend of past three seasons, career averages, and potential linemate projections.
Young Talent Making Great Cases To Make Blackhawks Roster
The Chicago Blackhawks said they were going to emphasize growth from within. They said they would focus on developing prospects rather than buying rental players. They promised opportunities to young players to earn NHL roster spots for the 2016-17 season. They have held up their end of the bargain and the prospects are looking to hold up their end as well.
As the off-season comes to a close and the final pre-season games finish up, the Blackhawks are in a position that they have not been in for a while. They have to make very tough choices about which young players and prospects get a spot on the opening night roster.
In years past, the Blackhawks’ opening night roster would be pretty easy to predict. But this season is much different as new life is being breathed into the organization in the form of young talent with very bright futures.
So who makes the roster and what kind of impact will they have in 2016-17?
The position that has the most prospect depth for the Blackhawks is their forwards group. Prospects that have been around for a little while like Ryan Hartman and Mark McNeill are feeling the pressure of performing when their opportunity is brightest this season, while relative new-comers like Vince Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz may break through right away in 2016-17. The Chicago coaching staff has their hands full with what to do at the forward position, which is never a bad thing.
Last season, Hinostroza was the leading scorer for the Rockford IceHogs after posting 51 points (18 Goals, 33 Assists) in his first full professional season since joining the Blackhawks
Oct 1, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Vincent Hinostroza (48) skates in on St. Louis Blues goalie Carter Hutton (40) during the second period of a preseason hockey game at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
organization. He also made his NHL debut last season, playing in seven games for Chicago without recording a point.
Since the off-season began, Hinostroza has been one of the most impressive of the forward prospects and has been given a good amount of ice-time and consideration from the organization. He brings an immense amount of speed on the ice and has a nose for getting the puck in the right spots for himself and for his teammates.
Prediction: 7G, 10A, 17Pts
It is far more than likely that Hinostroza makes the Blackhawks opening night roster, and there is a high probability that he’ll get upwards of 30-40 games played with Chicago this season, possibly more if he really makes the most of his time. Don’t be surprised if Hinostroza doesn’t see the ice in Rockford this season, because he’ll be too busy in Chicago.
After making his professional debut last season with the Rockford IceHogs after a successful three-year career at the University of Michigan, Tyler Motte has made the biggest impression on the Blackhawks coaching staff this summer. Motte’s speed and two-way game has really made the organization take notice and it looks like Motte may even get an opportunity to play in a top-six role the start the 2016-17 season.
Motte has played in practices with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, replacing Artemi Panarin on the left-wing of Chicago’s second-line. If head coach Joel Quenneville does indeed split the Kane-Panarin-Anisimov line and play Panarin with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, Motte figures to get the first crack at being the replacement and playing with Kane and Anisimov.
Prediction: 6G, 15A, 21Pts
With the way Motte has played this summer and the indications that he will get a shot at being on the Blackhawks’ second-line to begin the year, there is no doubt that Motte will make the opening night roster. Whether or not he stays in that role for an extended time is anyone’s guess the way Quenneville like to jungle line combinations. For Motte, if he plays in that top-six role, he could be one of, if not the most important rookie for Chicago this season.
Seen as one of the top prospects in the Blackhawks organization for the last few years, Nick Schmaltz joining the team this summer made a big impact behind the words of the organization to focus on the future. Schmaltz, the 20th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, has seen success at the NCAA level and looks to turn that into NHL success with Chicago.
Oct 1, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz (8) and St. Louis Blues left wing Kenny Agostino (73) follow the puck during the first period of a preseason hockey game at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Looked at as a Toews-like player who can play both the Center and Wing position, Schmaltz’s versatility makes him invaluable to the Blackhawks. He’ll more than likely start the season as Chicago’s fourth-line Center alongside Hinostroza and Jordin Tootoo, furthering the notion that in today’s NHL, balance along the forward-lines is more valuable than the old-school sense of top-six producers and bottom-six grinders and goons.
Prediction: 7G, 25A, 32 Pts
Don’t be surprised if Schmaltz plays his way into the third-line Center position and the Blackhawks want to move Marcus Kruger back into his normal fourth-line Center spot. Schmaltz has the ability to be a top-six forward in the league, and if he makes the most of his time early on, he could see a wing spot on the top-line if Marian Hossa or Richard Panik don’t keep their opening night positions throughout the season.
Last season looked promising for Ryan Hartman to get another crack at the NHL and to make an impression on the organization that he was ready to make the jump. Unfortunately, his stint last season was only three games. Now heading into his third season with the Blackhawks organization, Hartman looks to be cementing his his place as a regular for Chicago.
Slated to start the season on the third-line, Hartman brings a psychical, two-way style of play to the Blackhawks that they need to mix with the skill and speed that Chicago has in their top-six forward positions.
Giving Hartman a role with Kruger and Motte on the Blackhawks’ third-line makes it feel like the organization is confident that he can keep up with his line-mates both offensively and defensively. Teams want their third-line to be able to do good work in all three zones of the ice, and Hartman has the opportunity right out of the gate to show his real value as a 200-foot player.
The Blackhawks’ defensive-core last season was their biggest weakness and it showed late in the season and into their Stanley Cup Playoff match-up against the St. Louis Blues. Chicago made it a big point to address the issues on the blue-line and the prospect group on defensive has actually made as much of an impact on the improvement of the defense as the addition of Brian Campbell has.
Two players in particular will be big factors in the future of the Blackhawks defensive group and neither one, at this time, is named Ville Pokka. Who knew?
Sep 30, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Dominik Simon (49) handles the puck as Chicago Blackhawks goalie Mac Carruth (60) and defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) defend during the third period in a preseason hockey game at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Vancouver Canucks and the Blackhawks swapped Forsling and Adam Clendening in January 2015. Since then, Clendening has played for the Canucks, Penguins, and Oilers organizations both at the NHL and AHL levels and Forsling has forced the hand of the Blackhawks to add him to the opening night roster. A good problem to have with a 20-year old, first time in North America defenseman.
Forsling has impressed Chicago all off-season and has jumped his way over players like Pokka, Viktor Svedberg, and Erik Gustafsson to get fast-tracked to the NHL roster. That and the fact Niklas Hjalmarsson is suspended for opening night, but never the less, he’s on the roster and they’re not.
Prediction: 2G, 7A, 9Pts
In the absence of Hjalmarsson, Forsling has seen time on the Blackhawks power-play unit and will be playing alongside Campbell to start the season. The Blackhawks probably won’t carry eight defensemen all season, but if Forsling makes the most of his early ice-time, he could find himself in a spot to be the seventh or maybe even sixth defender on the team.
Finally, there is 26-year old rookie defenseman Michal Kempny. A European signing in the off-season, Kempny was brought in to, again, fix the defensive issues of the 2015-16 Blackhawks season.
Since his arrival in North America, Kempny has been more than impressive on the ice and has proven already that he is ready to be a regular in the defensive core. Playing alongside Brent Seabrook, Kempny will have to really shine as a puck-moving defender and showcase his skating to get out of the defensive zone.
Prediction: 5G, 14A, 19Pts
It would be very surprising if Kempny is not consistently in the lineup night in and night out for Chicago. His transition has already been positive and if he can continue to develop on North American ice, Kempny could be a dark-horse for the Calder Trophy. No, not seriously. But imagine if it happened!