Chicago Blackhawks Roundtable: Young Players And Draft Positioning
By Colin Likas
Question 1: Hartman or Hayden? Hayden or Hartman? I’m guessing Ryan Hartman is going to get a lot of votes on this one, so I’m going to go ahead and make a case for John Hayden.
This young man bypassed the AHL and came straight from Yale to the NHL. He was given a spot on the first line alongside superstar Jonathan Toews. No pressure, kid!
Not only did Hayden hold his own, but he scored a goal in his second-ever NHL game. In 12 games played, he ended up with three assists to go along with this goal. He looked like he belonged, and showed he can play at this level.
Now, we all know Toews has struggled the past few seasons, ever since left wing Brandon Saad left for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Saad was a big, power forward who complemented Toews well.
Hayden is also a left-winger. He’s not afraid to throw around his 6-foot-3, 223-pound frame , and he built instant chemistry with Toews. This is the kind of player who could fill a much-needed role for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Question 2: I’d like to see the Chicago Blackhawks concentrate on goaltending in the upcoming draft. They really don’t have a viable prospect in the pipeline right now. Backup goaltender Scott Darling has moved on to a starting position with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Da Windy City
The ’Hawks will probably trade for an NHL-experienced backup to replace him, but this is only a temporary fix. In the meantime, starter Corey Crawford isn’t getting any younger, at 32 years of age. Although considered at the prime of his career right now, this isn’t going to last forever. The ’Hawks need to look towards the future when it comes to this very important position.
Question 1: I’ll offer up Nick Schmaltz as my response. I think the Blackhawks are about to be in a very interesting spot regarding their centers. When you look at the current roster, you can boast Jonathan Toews, Artem Anisimov, Tanner Kero, Marcus Kruger, Dennis Rasmussen and Andrew Desjardins as center options, in addition to Schmaltz.
Well, Kruger seems a prime candidate to go in the expansion draft. Rasmussen and Desjardins are both free agents. Toews and Anisimov have dealt with various injury issues of late and are relied upon for heavy minutes. So Schmaltz is probably going to be asked to step up in a major way next season.
And maybe it’s just on the wing, which is also important. But I feel like he’ll get a call during the 2017-18 season to work at center. It may be on a bottom-six line, but the Blackhawks have the ability to fill their bottom six with low-cost, higher-quality athletes to complement Schmaltz in that role.
The big key for Schmaltz, should be get this call, is improving his prowess at the faceoff dot. Whether it’s just lack of size or not having an NHL-ready faceoff style down pat, Schmaltz was bad at the dot this season. Some offseason lifting and work with the Blackhawks coaching staff can pay huge dividends in both areas.
On top of all this, Schmaltz is one of those guys who can play an east-west game in addition to north-south. This means he can make plays happen with cross-ice action, versus just running it back and forth between the goalies. The Blackhawks need more of this creativity, as much of it was restricted to the second line over the past two seasons.
Question 2: I know goaltenders rarely get selected in the early stages of the NHL draft, but I really think the Blackhawks need to take a good, long look at possible options at the position in the opening two rounds.
Scott Darling is out the door, and while Corey Crawford can certainly hold his own for the time being, he’s also 32 years old. Even if Darling had stuck around, he’s already 28 himself. No spring chicken in the NHL.
The Blackhawks’ prospect pool for goaltenders is disappointing, at best. Jeff Glass, Mac Carruth, Lars Johansson and Wouter Peeters (the latter of whom isn’t under contract with Chicago) have little to no NHL experience among them, and none are guys who you’d be comfortable throwing into an NHL net repeatedly next season — and maybe not for a couple seasons after that.
Next: Blackhawks' 2017 Offseason Calendar
So in my mind, the Blackhawks need to go find someone who can seriously push the competition in the Blackhawks’ goaltenders pool. It could be extremely dangerous to use an early-round pick on a goaltender, as it generally takes them longer to develop to NHL-ready athletes, and they just may not pan out. But I think it’s worth the risk now for Chicago.