Question 1: I’d have to say I’ve been super impressed with Ryan Hartman. He’s really solidified himself as a consistent asset to the team on a nightly basis.
It’s easy to get caught up in the success the top two lines are having, but I think sometimes in our appreciation for the top-six forwards we lose sight of the quality play the ’Hawks have been getting from Hartman, Tanner Kero, Vinnie Hinostroza and company.
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They possess the puck for shifts at a time on a regular basis, and their ability to maintain pressure in the offensive zone allows the top two lines to dictate the scoring.
Question 2: I have a few thoughts on the Hjalmarsson issue. Obviously I’m hoping the D-man finds his way back into the lineup soon, as he’s a crucial part of the defense core on the ’Hawks.
I don’t see the Blackhawks making a deep playoff run without Hjalmarsson standing in front of an obscene amount of pucks for his team. With that said, I discussed with another hockey expert something interesting about Hammer’s situation.
The timing of this injury makes it feel eerily similar to the Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa injuries of the past two years. Should No. 4 be placed on the IR, his cap hit would be temporarily freed up before the deadline. This anomaly is what allowed the acquisition of both Antoine Vermette and Andrew Ladd. I think that’s something to watch for.
Question 1: I have been most impressed with Nick Schmaltz during the Blackhawks’ recent offensive surge. His time spent in Rockford plus playing regularly alongside Jonathan Toews has clearly given him a ton of confidence with the puck and it’s making everyone around him better, which is impressive for a rookie.
Question 2: If Niklas Hjalmarsson is out long-term, I would be very concerned about Chicago’s blue-line rotation. Duncan Keith and Hjalmarsson are legit top-two defensemen in the NHL, but guys like Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk don’t have what it takes to step in and play the top-two role consistently.
A rotating door playing with Keith is not a recipe for success, nor is playing Michal Rozsival on a regular basis.