Chicago Blackhawks’ John Hayden Likely To Debut On Top Line

By Sean Fitzgerald
Feb 21, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Nick Schmaltz (8) celebrates his goal in the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Nick Schmaltz (8) celebrates his goal in the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /
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A top-six injury means the Chicago Blackhawks could see John Hayden debut tonight on the top line

When Chicago Blackhawks second-line center Artem Anisimov went down with a lower-body injury Tuesday against Montreal, it seemed clear the Blackhawks would need to find a replacement on the top six.

While coach Joel Quenneville said after the game that Anisimov was day-to-day, it came out Wednesday that the Russian would miss three to four weeks with his injury, which appeared to be to his ankle.

This occurred shortly after the Blackhawks signed John Hayden to a two-year, entry-level contract. He was along with the team Tuesday in Montreal but didn’t play. Now, the time seems right for him to jump into the fray, as indicated by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus.

Hayden slotting into top line

Nick Schmaltz moved from top-line left wing to the second-line center spot Tuesday after Anisimov’s injury. Thus, the top-line left wing position is now vacant for the time being.

The Blackhawks have the option of starting Hayden on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. A relative newcomer jumping on to the top line is not unheard of for the Blackhawks. Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza and Tyler Motte all have had time on the top line this season.

Hayden is a different type of player than Schmaltz, who while at the University of North Dakota was a pass-first type of center. He facilitated the play in college and tended to defer to other players in his first stint with the Blackhawks. After some time at Rockford, Schmaltz seems to have changed his relative unwillingness to shoot. Schmaltz still has a tendency to pass more than shoot, but it has gotten better.

Hayden, unlike Schmaltz, is a shoot-first guy. Hayden led Yale University with 174 shots and averaged 5.3 shots per game in his senior season. He is not afraid to generate scoring chances by putting the puck on net. He also not afraid to go play in the greasy areas because of his size. He is listed at 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 210 pounds, so the guy is a brick house and will be able hold off defenders with his size.

Hayden’s immediate future depends on results

As I have stated before, Hayden was the most impressive player to me at the Blackhawks’ prospect camp last summer. At a prospect camp that included Motte, Hinostroza and Schmaltz, he still was the best player on the ice. He used his size to shield puck from many players and displayed some skill during 1-on-1 drills. The prospect camp came before he put up career highs at Yale (21 goals, 34 points) in his senior year.

If Hayden succeeds on the Blackhawks’ top line in his first game, he figures to stay there until Quenneville breaks out the line blender. If he is not successful, I suspect we will see him on the third or fourth line, with Marian Hossa or Hartman jumping up to the top line.

Next: Blackhawks Stand Pat In Power Rankings

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Could we looking at the long-term at answer at top-line wing? Is Hayden the next Brandon Saad? The answers will start to be written tonight against the Ottawa Senators.

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