In a year when the Chicago Blackhawks were forced to play several of their young prospects in the NHL, many of them could have used more development
Today, the Chicago Blackhawks assigned Nick Schmaltz to their AHL affiliate the Rockford IceHogs in a move to bring up goaltender Lars Johansson due to the Corey Crawford appendectomy.
It has been a challenge this year for a lot of the young Blackhawks to adjust to the NHL lifestyle, and Schmaltz seemed to struggle with it the most. Playing in 26 games, Schmaltz scored one goal and added three assists as he never found his role in the lineup.
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Before the season started, Schmaltz was coming off a college national championship with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. During the 2015-16 season, Schmaltz scored 11G goals with 35 assists in 37 games and was an astounding plus-44.
He improved on his stats from the previous year when he tallied 5 goals and 21 assists in 38 games. There is no question that the Blackhawks knew Schmaltz had scoring talent, which is probably why they gave him a shot at this year’s roster.
But being a top playmaker in the NHL is much different from doing so in college hockey. Players are bigger, stronger and faster, and few can make the transition at a young age (see Connor McDavid). Looking at Schmaltz’s numbers from North Dakota and even his USA Hockey games, he is definitely a playmaker with outstanding vision but he needs to develop more aspects of his game.
It’s not easy to go from a No. 1 center position where you scored 46 points to being a fourth-line grinder in the NHL. But that is what’s demanded of young players from coach Joel Quenneville. In order to stay on this roster, you need to understand your role and break your ego.
For example, when the Blackhawks traded for defenseman Trevor Daley last year, he didn’t work out because he wouldn’t take a lesser role on defense. Daley felt like he could offer more to the team but was disappointed with fewer minutes behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Nicklas Hjalmarsson. Daley requested a trade and was shipped off the Pittsburgh Penguins almost overnight.
But there are ways to keep your job on this team. Tyler Motte has expressed his willingness to kill penalties. Ryan Hartman has been improving his physicality and shown a surprising scoring touch. Vinnie Hinostroza brings relentless forecheck and speed to the party. And Gustav Forsling brings reliability and smart outlet passes from the defensive zone.
All of these players except for Forsling have had time in the AHL, and it shows.
Going down to Rockford, Schmaltz will have top-line minutes and be given the opportunity to play in all scenarios. With a 7-12 record, the IceHogs can definitely use Schmaltz to help them climb the standings. Let’s hope coach Ted Dent can instill some good form and technique for Schmaltz like he’s done with so many other Blackhawks.