Chicago Blackhawks Grades: Tanner Kero Does His Job In 2016-17
By Colin Likas
Our Chicago Blackhawks grades series continues today with bottom-six forward Tanner Kero, who did what he was asked throughout the season
It’s fair to say there were few expectations placed on Tanner Kero heading into the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2016-17 season. This was mainly because no one knew when or how long he’d be on the main roster.
Kero was called up from the Rockford IceHogs on Dec. 22 after Artem Anisimov suffered an injury. Kero was then sent back to the minors at the All-Star break, only to be called back up four days later. The team completed their journey with Kero this season by signing him to a two-year contract extension on March 23.
Overall, Kero had a mostly solid season for the Blackhawks. That’s not something you’d complain about, either, considering there are far worse words that could be used to describe bottom-six forwards. Let’s take a closer look at how the 24-year-old performed.
2016-17 regular-season statistics: 47 games, 6 goals, 10 assists, plus-15 rating, 47.0 Corsi-for (even strength)
2016-17 postseason statistics: 4 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, minus-2 rating, 55.7 Corsi-for (even strength)
In his first full NHL season, Kero managed to produce six goals on just 60 shot attempts. For someone who played just over half the NHL season and spent his time in a bottom six role with some iffy teammates, that’s a nice little push for the Blackhawks.
Kero was also a very smart player on the ice this season, tallying just eight penalty minutes across the regular season and playoffs. He played a lot larger than his size as well, blocking better than a shot per game and winning his fare share of board battles while standing just 6 feet tall and weighing 185 pounds.
Kero, like Marcus Kruger, was a consistently solid presence on the bottom six throughout this season. Kero was almost like a Kruger Lite at various times, flipping the ice at a reasonable rate. Though his possession rating was 47 percent, it came while seeing just 40.3 percent of his starts in the offensive zone.
When you compare that last number to the 55.0 percent of shifts he started in the O-zone during his 17-game stint in the NHL last season, it shows coach Joel Quenneville has trust in Kero. He likely realized this season that Kruger could be out the door in the Vegas expansion draft, and so he was trying to groom Kero to take on Kruger’s defensive center role.
And Kero handled it fairly well, getting tossed out on the penalty kill as well and helping stabilize that after it was horrible to start the season. When you get 16 points from a guy described as a defensive forward (Kruger had 17 points in 23 more games played), you should be pretty happy.
Additionally, Kero was one guy who actually looked like he was pushing play against Nashville in the postseason. He won 59 percent of his faceoffs in the four-game series and was actually driving to the crease. It was great to see.
The postseason faceoff success was especially great to see because it didn’t exist in the regular season. While much attention was paid to the dot struggles of Anisimov and Nick Schmaltz, Kero posted a woeful 44.4 success rate in the regular season.
While Kero plays with size outside the faceoff circle, that doesn’t seem to come into play when he takes draws. This will be a huge point of emphasis for the Blackhawks coaching staff in the offseason, especially if Kruger is drafted by Vegas.
Not that we need to wring our hands any further over the Blackhawks’ postseason failures, but Kero’s solid Corsi-for at even strength against the Predators was based solely on two games. He carried rates of 38.10 and 36.36 in Games 2 and 3, which are just awful numbers. Not that his teammates were doing much better, but it’s worth pointing out.
Sometimes, when you say someone “does the job,” that can be taken as calling that person average. But I think Kero was above average in many areas during his true rookie season.
He showed the ability to be another Kruger-type forward, while also providing some scoring pop. He’s solid between the ears as well, with his lack of penalties committed. He’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas, nor is he afraid to give up his body for the team.
Next: 3 Reasons For Blackhawks To Trade Panarin
If Kero was more successful at the dot this season, I think this grade is an A-. That’s something that can at least be worked on, and you can be sure Kero and the Blackhawks will this offseason. But overall, it was a really nice season for the bottom-six forward.