Chicago Blackhawks’ Youngsters Have Gone Missing Against Predators
By Jeffrey Franklin
Heading into the season, the big story surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks was the amount of rookies who would be getting their shot in the NHL. After some rough starts and growing pains, the regular season turned out to be successful for a good number of young guns. However, those players have made little to no positive impact thus far in the playoffs.
Ryan Hartman’s first full NHL campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks ended with him quietly having one of the better rookie seasons in this year’s class. Hartman finished with 19 goals and 31 points in 76 games and fit the role of the grinder, filling a hole left by fan favorite Andrew Shaw, who departed in the 2016 offseason.
Hartman was regaled by many who saw him fill Shaw’s role without taking as many penalties. It was an odd yet ever-present phenomenon whenever Hartman had a good game, as it seemingly led to a wave of criticism being directed at Shaw.
Since the playoffs have started, however, the only impact Hartman has made has been a bad penalty at the end of a horrendous 5-0 Game 2 loss to the Predators, as the Blackhawks have slipped into a 3-0 series deficit ahead of tonight’s Game 4.
While Shaw hasn’t been much better in his Montreal Canadiens’ opening series against the New York Rangers, his team has at least been able to keep the series close in a matchup that was predicted to be close, whereas, the Blackhawks were projected by most everyone to win this series rather quickly.
Instead, they find themselves in the midst of one of the worst playoff performances from this once dominant playoff core. Shaw hasn’t needed to provide as much supplemental scoring right now for Montreal. Hartman does for Chicago.
Schmaltz also struggles, though Kero doesn’t
Hartman isn’t the only young ’Hawk who has disappeared this spring. Nick Schmaltz‘s rookie season was a little bit different from Hartman’s.
Schmaltz was a non-factor at the beginning of the season, and his play saw him demoted to the Rockford IceHogs. After that stint with the farm team, Schmaltz came back a different player.
While Jonathan Toews was tearing apart the league in February, Schmaltz was right there with him feeding off his captain’s play.
For a while, the Richard Panik-Toews-Schmaltz line had many excited that the Blackhawks had finally found a consistent top six. The hope was the team would no longer need the Patrick Kane line to carry it, and for a while it worked — until it didn’t.
Post-AHL Schmaltz became a treat to watch with the puck on his stick, weaving through defenses and making gorgeous passes to set up scoring opportunities.
Enter the 2017 playoffs, exit post-AHL Schmaltz. Schmaltz has been more than just ineffective in the playoffs — he has been bad and has made costly mistakes that have seen his possession numbers take a hit, and his two shots on goal are simply not good enough.
The only rookie whose game hasn’t changed much for the better or the worse is that of rookie center Tanner Kero.
Kero joined the team in December due to injury and hasn’t looked back. He filled the role of a checking-line center perfectly by winning faceoffs and playing sound defense. His 16 points on the season were a welcome addition. In the playoffs, he has been exactly the same player. Unfortunately, a player like Kero, while incredibly necessary, cannot win a playoff series.
The Blackhawks need more than just Kero from their rookie class to carry regular-season play into the postseason. The team’s current situation also can’t be blamed on the rookies as playoff success falls on the shoulders of the team’s core group.
It’s a group that has massively underperformed in both this year and last year’s first round. However, the teams that win in the postseason are the teams that get contributions from all over the lineup.
Next: Chicago Blackhawks’ 3 Keys To Game 4 Victory Against Predators
The Blackhawks’ supplemental scoring in the regular season came mostly from their rookies, and that has dried up now. When Dennis Rasmussen has one of the two goals for this team in the playoffs, you are bound to have problems.