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Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Youth Movement Key To Success Moving Forward

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OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 09: Chicago Blackhawks Center Nick Schmaltz (8) waits for play to resume during second period National Hockey League action between the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators on January 9, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 09: Chicago Blackhawks Center Nick Schmaltz (8) waits for play to resume during second period National Hockey League action between the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators on January 9, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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If the Chicago Blackhawks want to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, they need their young guns to step up

Consistent production from the Chicago Blackhawks’ youth is paramount in order to make a deep run in the playoffs this year.  While the ‘Hawks are in their five-game hiatus, let’s take a look at the young forwards on the roster who will play a critical role in the ‘Hawks’ success this year. The focus will be on their demonstrated strengths, their preferred playing positions and potential spots in the lineup.

The 23-man active roster for Chicago has seven players aged 23 or younger, six being forwards (Gustav Forsling is 21 years old on defense). With a third of the team being so young, getting the most out of these players is critical to the ‘Hawks’ success this year.

Alex DeBrincat

No. 12, 20 years old, shoots right, right wing

DeBrincat has a top-six pedigree.  Over 50 goals and 100 points in all three years with the Erie Otters got him promoted directly to the big show. He’s played with top-level talent including Conner McDavid and knows how to finish.

DeBrincat has a great, quick shot and although smaller in stature, goes to the tough areas to score. A player with these skills needs 14-18 minutes a night to be impactful. In the last game before the break, he had the second-lowest time on ice, playing only 10:55.

This was 31 seconds more than the lowest TOI player, fourth-line energy guy Lance Bouma. If you’re losing 4-0 and the veterans are already on their phones booking flights to the Caribbean, how do you play a young scorer less than 11 minutes?

Nick Schmaltz

No. 8, 21 years old, shoots right, center

Schmaltz has had a great start with the ‘Hawks. With Artem Anisimov out, he’s been centering the second line with Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman, which has led to some great moments. Schmaltz is a quick-skating playmaker who has a penchant for dishing instead of shooting.

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  • Pair him with a pure shooter (Kane, Sharp, DeBrincat, etc.) and points start coming. The downside of Schmaltz playing center is faceoffs. Nick has improved from last year’s terrible faceoff percentage of 30.9 , but still is only winning 40.1 percent of his draws this year, which is not sustainable for a possession-based team.

    At minimum, he’ll need to get this up to 47-48 percent, or may be better suited at wing. He has cemented himself in the top six, which is a great sign for things to come.

    Anthony Duclair

    No. 91, 22 years old, shoots left, left wing

    Duclair was the key return in the recent Richard Panik trade with Arizona. Only two games into his start with Chicago, he has shown speed and an ability to play on the wall.

    Although smaller than Panik at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he’s very quick and hopefully could be add some talent to the PK. Q has already utilized him on the top line and the PP, which is a good sign they like his game. He has top-six skills and could be a huge player for the ‘Hawks in this, his third NHL team at only 22.

    David Kampf

    No. 64, 23 years old, shoots left, center

    Kampf has been a bright spot since coming up from Rockford eight games ago. After four years in the Czech League and 30 games with Rockford, Kampf has shown to be very good defensively and that he can win much-needed faceoffs, winning over 52 percent thus far in his short tenure.

    He is an upgrade over Tanner Kero, as he also has shown some offensive abilities, scoring a goal and an assist in the win over Winnipeg last week. The key is can he fill the large skates left with the departure of Marcus Kruger. If he can win key defensive draws and kill penalties, he may be a perfect fit as a third- or fourth-line center for the ‘Hawks. He’s a true center and it shows.

    Vinnie Hinostroza

    No. 48, 23 years old, shoots right, right wing

    After scoring only 14 points in 49 games with the ‘Hawks in 2016-17, Hinostroza’s back and looks great. His skating ability and relentless pursuit of the puck are critical needs for the ‘Hawks.

    He’s been on the top line recently and already has nine points (three goals) in his 15 games played. He has played the center position, but is better suited as a winger, which allows him to be more creative with the puck as he has fewer defensive responsibilities. He’s a top-six type player and needs to play with other playmakers in order to produce the numbers the ‘Hawks require.

    Ryan Hartman

    No. 38, 23 years old, shoots right, left wing

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    Hartman’s in his second full year with the ‘Hawks, playing 76 games last year with 19 goals and 31 points. He also has been part of the “find a center” game the ‘Hawks have played all year and is better suited for a wing role.

    In games when he is on, he can make a material impact for the ‘Hawks, but has not shown consistency thus far in his short career. He’s been on the second line since Anisimov was injured, and has done well with 20 points in 41 games.

    He has been labeled as an Andrew Shaw type player, but aside from his first NHL shift (remember that hit?), he has not been as physically active nor shown the net-front presence Shaw did.  Similar to Shaw, his skills seem to be better suited as a third- or fourth-line player, not top six. His physicality and adaptability is a strength for the ‘Hawks.

    The strategy

    We all know the drill with young players and Coach Q.  Defense, defense, defense (unless you’re Artemi Panarin), change lines every other game, sit if you make a mistake and play on your off wing or pretend to be a center even if you haven’t played that position before.

    This needs to stop. If the Blackhawks want to consistently win, they need to have their playmakers gain chemistry every game. We’ve witnessed the departure of a top-10 NHL player (Panarin reference again) in order to bring in a winger who can support the captain and his play.

    As crazy as it sounds, locking Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad into 18-20 minutes a night skating around and not making an impact needs to stop. Similar to football, Q needs to script 5-10 games with the same line combinations and give them time to jell.

    This break is a perfect time to look at some new lines. Maybe it’s time to play 19, 20 and 10 at the level they’re playing at, not at the level they used to play at. We’ve seen what kids can do to win Cups (see Penguins), and the ‘Hawks now may have a group that could do the same if it is allowed the opportunity. Here’s a potential lineup with Patrick Sharp and Bouma rotating in on the fourth line.

    More from Analysis

    91 – 8 – 12
    8 – 15 – 88
    20 – 19 – 48
    38 – 64 – 57

    By keeping Schmaltz at center, you can include most of the core youth players on the top lines. It also would allow the ‘Hawks to have an outstanding third line — no longer first in minutes.

    The break also allows Q and Kevin Dineen to revamp the powerplay. Duncan Keith should sit and let Forsling, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle man the point. Although he had a tough time to start the year, I’d rather see Brent Seabrook than Keith. At least he can get a shot through and score a goal.

    Summary

    In order for the ‘Hawks to make a deep run in the playoffs this year, the current lines and minutes played will not work.  Instead of bringing in someone at the trade deadline just to be swept in the first round, the ‘Hawks need to play the kids and see what they can do.

    Toews and Saad need their 5-on-5 minutes dropped, and the young group of Schmaltz, DeBrincat, Duclair and Hinostroza need to play more to see what we have. Maybe Q can even keep them in the lineup if they make a mistake.

    Next: Corey Crawford's Health A Mystery

    We’ll see if over the break if Q and his coaching staff put the work in and change some things or instead take the time off to get a tan.  If it’s the latter, the Q era will end soon.

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