Chicago Blackhawks’ New Franchise Core Slowly Falling Into Place

By Mario Tirabassi
Feb 19, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz (8) brings the puck into the Buffalo Sabres zone during the first period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz (8) brings the puck into the Buffalo Sabres zone during the first period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports /
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Youth movement necessary for Chicago

While drafting well and making sure development of young talent is a priority for all professional teams, the Blackhawks needed it desperately over the past few seasons. While the current core was instrumental in bringing home the Stanley Cup in 2015, the 2016 campaign was a grind that ultimately ended in the first round against the St. Louis Blues.

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The seven-game series with St. Louis was a microcosm of what was going well and what was going wrong with the Blackhawks at the end of 2016. Veteran players were slowing down and youthful talent and fresh legs were not in abundance. Lack of depth caused holes in both the offensive and defensive sides for Chicago, and the long offseason became a blessing in disguise.

Over the summer, Bowman and Joel Quenneville made it known that an investment in the franchise’s youth was necessary and coming. Opening night for the Blackhawks saw six NHL rookies taking the ice with Motte, Hinostroza, Schmaltz, Hartman, Forsling and Michal Kempny suiting up.

The investment has paid off during the 2016-17 campaign. While Hartman, Schmaltz and to a slightly lesser degree Kempny and Hinostroza have made the most impact throughout the entire season, all six opening-night rookies have made an impact during different points.

As far as scoring goes for the Blackhawks’ rookie class, Hartman and Schmaltz highlight the offense by ranking ninth and 10th on the Blackhawks in points this season, and both rank inside the top 25 of all rookie scoring in the NHL.

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While Quenneville has the rap for not giving young players enough time or enough leash to make their strides in the NHL, he has, to his credit, given some promising rookies their due. Saad, Shaw, Teravainen and Crawford are all examples of rookies during the Q era who have been given a fair shake in their rookie seasons.

It’s hard to continually churn out NHL-ready rookies every year, let alone have six in your starting lineup on opening night, but Quenneville has given each one his fair shake to make impressions and show that they have, or could have in the near future, staying power at the NHL level.

The payoff continues to grow for Quenneville and the Blackhawks as college signee Hayden joined the Blackhawks in mid-March and has yet to lose his spot on the top line with Toews and Richard Panik.

That will likely change once Artem Anisimov returns from injury and Schmaltz can return to the top-line left wing spot. But even then, there is no doubt that Hayden will be in consideration for a spot in the four-line rotation after the game he has shown in his short time with Chicago.

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