Youth has been given time to shine this season with the Chicago Blackhawks under coach Joel Quenneville
Understandably, ever since Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville brought the Stanley Cup back to Chicago after a near 50-year hiatus in 2010, and brought it back again in 2013, and then again 2015, he’s been given pretty liberal discretion regarding the player personnel skating for our beloved Chicago Blackhawks.
However, a byproduct of this degree of autonomy was the revelation of Coach Q’s clear, and oft times puzzling, fondness for veteran players at the expense of younger, more promising talent.
This penchant of Coach Quenneville’s grew from a mild irrigation to outright aggravation for many in Blackhawks Nation over the years, who could do little more than watch in befuddlement as past-prime, barely-contributing veterans such as Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Handzus and John Scott (to name but a few) got ice time while young, up-and-coming talents like Brandon Pirri, Klas Dahlbeck and Adam Clendening languished on the bench and/or Rockford IceHogs before eventually being told to hit the bricks.
(PS – all the aforementioned young players were able to become NHL staples after they left the ‘Hawks.)
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However, the latest bite the ever-present salary-cap crunch took out of the Blackhawks’ roster this past offseason has left Coach Q with perhaps the largest amount of novice NHL-ers under his tutelage than perhaps at any given time during his entire career behind the bench.
So now the question is, given the amount of young players currently skating for the Blackhawks, has Coach Quenneville finally come around on younger players? Has he finally seen the rewards of nurturing a newly-minted player that needs guidance to reach their full potential?
Closer look at young players through 41 games
To find any evidence of a potential Q-stache about-face regarding younger players, we can’t look in the obvious place: the offensive side of the roster. While younger forwards like Ryan Hartman and Tyler Motte have experienced varying degrees of success this season, it’s unfortunately just a fact that given the salary cap, Coach Q simply had no choice but to start so many young forwards at once if he wanted to roll four offensive lines.
Thus, if we shift our focus to the ongoings of Blackhawks’ defensive ranks, we’ll see some interesting evidence that perhaps Coach Quenneville is finally realizing the benefits giving younger talent a chance can bring.
Amidst all the injury-related drama afflicting the ‘Hawks for the past month, one interesting development that has largely flown under the radar has been the surprising staying power of young defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk, Gustav Forsling (until Friday) and, to a lesser extent, Michal Kempny.
Given Coach Q’s tendencies, the smart money said at the beginning of the season that these young defenders would be hard pressed to see substantial ice time. Yet both TVR and Forsling played for nearly the entire month of December.
As of this post, TVR shows no signs of slowing his sterling performance as of late down, and even though Forsling was recently reassigned to Rockford, the fact the young Swede was given such a large window of playing time at age 20 is unheard of under Quenneville’s notoriously veteran-favoring regime. Factor into that the decent amount of ice time Kempny has been able to stake out as well over the past five contests.
Now, while the results these three green defenders have experienced over the past month has been mostly positive, what’s most impressive here is who Q-Stache benched at times to give these three youths the start: veterans Michal Rozsival and Brian Campbell.
While he’s had a few high points during his tenure in Chicago, ever since 2014, Rozsival has become the poster child for Q-Stache’s irritating preference for low-maintenance, under-performing veterans. It was an irritation that reached it boiling point when Rozsival literally skated his foot off trying to keep up with the pace of the game during 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Even after that, Rozsival has remained on the Blackhawks roster. Hence given Quenneville’s stubborn loyalty, it’s been surprising that Rozy has been all but completely absent from the ‘Hawks lineup for the better part of two months.
Just as intriguing has been the benching of Campbell. Soupy is Blackhawks royalty from 2010 that came back to Chi Town with a consecutive starting streak north of 400 games. Yet, Soupy was a healthy scratch during the Blackhawks’ tilt against the Nashville Predators at the end of December. Even with career tally mark at stake, Campbell surprisingly received no special veteran treatment from Coach Q.
What does it all mean?
Now whether the roster moves of the past month are indicators that Coach Q has warmed up to starting younger players is anyone’s guess. After all, the ‘Hawks are just coming off dressing eight defensemen and playing time needs to be parceled out accordingly. Still, the amount of ice time young Blackhawks defenders has seen lately is still noteworthy given how historically short of a leash Q-Stache has given younger players in the past.
Perhaps the method to Coach Quenneville’s madness here is the acknowledgement that the Blackhawks’ current defensive corps has only so much shelf life left, and the future blue line of the franchise needs to start taking shape.
Whatever the reason, the Blackhawks’ younger defenders have by and large stood and delivered in the abnormally large windows Coach Q has afforded them. Here’s hoping they can keep it going, and their window remains open.
FOR THE DAGGER!