I’m not really sure what to make of Hayden just yet. He didn’t have an explosive NHL debut like Ryan Hartman did years ago, but he didn’t need to. Hayden played his game and was entirely serviceable in a short first NHL stint.
Hayden is a big-bodied youngster, and that’s where he becomes key to Chicago on the bottom six. Should he be able to use effective positioning and win board battles, he can not only flip the ice in defensive situations but also set up scoring plays in offensive events.
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Twelve NHL games is a small sample size, and while he potted four points in that time, there’s no guarantee he can handle the rigors of an 82-game season — something I’m sure Q will be interested to find out about as well.
Hayden was pushed early on and responded well enough that I think the Blackhawks will give him chances to continue playing at this level. What will be interesting to see is if he fares well receiving less tilted zone starts, as a whopping 61.9 percent of his shifts started in the O-zone last season.
This is an interesting entry, because Kempny is unlike the other three guys on this list. The previous three played North American hockey for years and came to the Blackhawks at a young age. Kempny was plucked from overseas last season and is older than all three of the above guys.
But I think Kempny really is due for a breakout campaign. I was among the group that believed Kempny was held back last season. Whether this was due to Q’s fear that the Czech athlete wasn’t adjusting to a new style of play, or because he just didn’t trust him, it no doubt left Kempny confused about his role on the team.
Flash forward to now, and you’ve got general manager Stan Bowman and Q hinting that Kempny will be expected to at least compete for top-four minutes, if not outright grab the 4D spot. That’s quite a change of heart.
The thing is, Kempny was rarely so bad that he shouldn’t have been on the ice last season. Yes, he had just eight points in 50 games, but that isn’t Kempny’s style of play. He’s a stay-at-home blueliner who can get his team out of trouble with both his skates and his stick.
Now that there’s both a comfort level with the North American style and with the coaching staff/front office, I expect Kempny to be utilized more liberally and thrive because of it. He has a lot of the tools needed to be a successful mid-pairing NHLer … and he’s probably due for an increase from that 3 percent shooting mark from last season.