Chicago Blackhawks’ 3 Keys To Success During 2017-18 Season

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 23: Jonathan Toews
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 23: Jonathan Toews /
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CHICAGO, IL – MARCH 19: Nick Schmaltz
CHICAGO, IL – MARCH 19: Nick Schmaltz /

Youth movement

Both Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman took big steps forward in the 2016-17 campaign. But if the Blackhawks are going to go further than just making the playoffs in 2017-18, both Schmaltz and Hartman, as well as a few other youngsters, will be essential for the team.

Schmaltz started off the 2016-17 year with a lot of promise, but a limited amount of production. He started the year scoring only one goal and three assists in his first 26 games. While it was evident he had decent hands and a lot of speed in his game, he played tentatively and reserved on the big stage.

After a December 3 tilt with the Flyers, the ‘Hawks sent Schmaltz down to Rockford to get a little extra work in and to figure some things out. 

When Schmaltz returned, he was a different player. Quicker to the puck and unafraid to put a shot on net, Schmaltz scored five goals and added 19 assists in the 35 games he played in after returning.

This run included a nine-game stretch from February to early March when he scored three goals and had nine assists. The entire team benefited, as the Blackhawks went 8-1 in those nine games.

Chicago Blackhawks

At the point Schmaltz started to produce, the Blackhawks looked like a different team. They were faster and more well-rounded, not depending completely on the Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Kane line to score. If Schmaltz takes another step forward after his first NHL offseason, he will make the team so much more competitive.

Likewise, Hartman showed a lot in his first full year. Hartman potted 19 goals and collected another 12 assists in the 76 games he played. He also had a little edge to his game that the Blackhawks were looking for with the departure of Andrew Shaw the summer before.

But Hartman needs to find a way to not lose his cool. While he stayed fairly calm and collected throughout the season, there were several games near the end of the year when Hartman was taking bad penalties and letting the NHL pressure get the better of him. 

Playing with an edge can be great for a team, but costly penalties can absolutely destroy them. Hartman had penalties in three of four games down the stretch that had him in the box for 13 minutes. This was topped off with penalties in the first two games of the series against Nashville.

The 14 minutes of penalties in those two games showed that frustration and the pressure of the big stage seemed to be getting to Hartman. 

Sometimes, cooler heads need to prevail. If Hartman can stay out of the box and continue to contribute points on the third line, it will help balance the ‘Hawks. 

Outside of Schmaltz and Hartman, Connor Murphy is going to be essential to the Blackhawks success. Murphy is only 24 years old, but has played in three full seasons before joining the ‘Hawks. There is a ton of potential in his game, but he is filling in for a defenseman who has been a staple for the Blackhawks for many years in Niklas Hjalmarsson

It would be insane to ask Murphy to be the next Hjalmarsson, especially in Year 1 with the team. But it is certainly not too much to ask Murphy to be able to play like a top-four defenseman who can have good possession numbers and drive the puck out of the defensive zone quickly to create offensive opportunities.

It is not only something that the ‘Hawks can ask of him, it is essential for the blue line to be reliable and keep the Blackhawks in games. 

The last time the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, Brandon Saad counted as $764,167 against the cap. Shaw cost the team $2 million. Teuvo Teravainen cost $418,239. These three players, together totaling just over $3 million in salary, combined for 17 goals and 16 assists in the 23 postseason games the ‘Hawks played in. 

Youth contribution matters. Especially on a team against the cap.