This is the guy I’d put at the top of my “possible breakout players” list for 2017-18. Schmaltz had a crisis of confidence when he started the 2016-17 season in Chicago. After an AHL trip, he had a strong stretch of play before things kind of fell apart again in the playoffs (a team-wide issue).
Schmaltz has tons of promise, a reason he made the team out of camp last season. It was figured he and Tyler Motte would bolster the bottom six while pushing for top-six spots. It didn’t exactly work out that way, but Schmaltz had an entirely acceptable 28-point campaign in 61 games.
The first thing that needs to happen regarding Schmaltz, whether or not he’s a breakout star of 2017-18, is the team settling on a true position for him. Coach Joel Quenneville applied Schmaltz as both a wing and center. Schmaltz seemed to get more comfortable in the latter role as the season went on, but it’s still a work in progress.
Da Windy City
After that, Schmaltz needs to focus on shooting the puck more. It was a key criticism in his first stint with the Blackhawks, but Schmaltz did start finding the net more off his own stick after returning from the AHL. Still, he found the twine six times on just 66 shots. Imagine what he could do with higher volume.
Once these two things are worked out, I think Schmaltz is due for a really strong first full NHL season. Sure, his potential linemates could drag him down. But I think Q sees a lot of promise in Schmaltz and may give him some legitimate trust, which could lead to a massive breakout.
Now, “breakout” doesn’t mean the same thing for each player. Kero is not a Blackhawk because he’s a goal-scoring machine. His role is to be the new Marcus Kruger. And so, Kero is going to receive every opportunity to succeed in 2017-18.
Like everyone whose name isn’t Toews, Kero needs to work on his faceoff prowess. A 44.4 percent success rate just isn’t going to get the job done, especially with defensively-tilted zone starts. His 47.0 Corsi-for rate with just 40.3 percent of his starts coming in the O-zone, though, isn’t all that bad. It shows Kero is on the right track for defensive center work.
Any offense Kero can throw in is a bonus. The thing is, I think he has a nice bit of potential in that department. Kero managed six goals on 60 shots across just 47 games last season — a similar statline to that of Schmaltz in 14 fewer contests. It’s certainly an interesting comparison, as Kero is more of a “rush the net” type of offensive skater than the playmaking Schmaltz.
So the focus for Kero is really on defensive work. If he can get his faceoff percentage boosted up and maintain the offensive ability he showed last season, he could be a pleasant surprise on the bottom six this year.