Just when the Chicago Blackhawks were expected to take a step back after being forced to move veterans to stay under the NHL salary cap, they are again leading the Western Conference as we approach Thanksgiving
This past summer, the Chicago Blackhawks were forced to trade beloved fan favorite Andrew Shaw to the Montreal Canadiens in order to navigate their way into salary cap compliance heading into the 2016-2017 NHL season. The team also said goodbye to veteran Andrew Ladd, again, as well as Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen
The Blackhawks have long had to make moves to navigate the salary cap threshold, most of which included moving on from reliable veteran role players. Luckily, the ’Hawks always seem to have the solution up their sleeve, thanks in part to an excellent player development staff, and general manager Stan Bowman.
The Blackhawks are enjoying a 13-5-2 record and lead the Western Conference with 28 points. The Blackhawks trail only the Montreal Canadiens (30) and New York Rangers (29) for the points lead across the entire NHL.
The ’Hawks’ early season success can be attributed to multiple players, including Marian Hossa, who has seemingly found new life in his career at the tender age of 37 years old. Hossa has 11 goals and six assists through 18 games in 2016. Goaltender Corey Crawford has also shined bright this year, posting nine wins through his first 15 games including two shutouts, coupled with a .928 save percentage.
It’s not all about the veterans, though
But it’s the young ’Hawks who are flying high as of late, and they’re injecting a heavy dose of excitement into the team as they grow with each shift. Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz and Gustav Forsling are all under the age of 23, and all of them are becoming key cogs in the Blackhawks’ success this season.
Hartman, who saw brief stints with the Blackhawks in the past two seasons, has finally began to hit his stride at the NHL level, scoring goals in two of the last three games to give him four goals and two assists on the season.
Hinostroza, 22, who hails from Bartlett, was a sixth-round draft choice of the Blackhawks in 2012 out of the University of Notre Dame. On Saturday night, Hinostroza scored the second of three third-period goals that erased the Vancouver Canucks’ three-goal lead, and was his first career NHL goal and point.
Hinostroza would also net an assist on the Blackhawks’ game-tying goal in the third, and on the game-winning goal by Marian Hossa in overtime.
Hinostroza contributed a total of three points in the thrilling come-from-behind victory Saturday night, which according to Elias is the first time the ’Hawks have erased a three-goal deficit in the third period since November 24, 1995.
According to Hinostroza the victory was never in doubt Saturday, as he said: “Guys are saying, we’re coming back, there’s no way we’re losing this one. It’s definitely cool to hear that”.
Blackhawks rookies Schmaltz and Motte have also played well thus far, with Schmaltz scoring a goal and notching three assists thus far, while Motte has been excellent with three goals and three assists to date.
Let’s not forget ’Hawks rookie defenseman Forsling, who has a goal and three assists through 16 games played this season. Forsling has nine hits, six blocks and a takeaway as well this season.
The emergence of the new wave of youthful Blackhawks talent has been a key factor in the ’Hawks’ rise to the top of the Western Conference this season after stumbling out of the gates early on.
The Blackhawks will continue to look to their young guns moving forward to help take some of the pressure off the veteran stars like Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as the team gets into the thick of the schedule over the next few months.