Editorials

Chicago Blackhawks’ Securing Of The Future, Part I: Nick Schmaltz

By Aaron Goldschmidt
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 06: Nick Schmaltz
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 06: Nick Schmaltz /
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Based on the progress he’s made the past two seasons, Nick Schmaltz will eventually cost the Chicago Blackhawks more money to keep around

On Monday, Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman addressed the media about the 2017-18 season and what he plans to do to improve the team moving forward.  One of the primary objectives for him was to continue developing home-grown players and have enough cap space to keep them around long term.  He specifically mentioned Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat and Vinnie Hinostroza.

This post will be the first of a three-part series on Blackhawk Up that will evaluate each of those players, see where they fit in the Blackhawks’ future plans and estimate what kind of contract they will eventually demand.  We’ll take a look first at second-year pro Schamltz.

Summary

As we continue to see the league get younger each year, Schmaltz is a prime example of a player who was ready for the NHL right away.  He did spend a little time in Rockford after he struggled midway through his rookie year, but since returning he hasn’t looked back.

We’ve seen a lot of growth from the centerman, who played his junior hockey with the Green Bay Gamblers and played two years of college hockey at the University of North Dakota.  If you look at his numbers from before he went pro, Schmaltz was clearly a playmaker on paper.  He has great vision and distributes the puck very well.

When he was drafted, TSN analyst Bob McKenzie described him as “enigmatic” because he was the best player on the ice or not noticeable at all.  But now in his second year in the NHL, Schmaltz tends to be noticed more often than not.

Blackhawks coaches and fans agreed he needed to be more assertive offensively, and he made those adjustments this year.  Schmaltz scored 21 goals, the most he’s ever scored in any season in the USHL, college or pro game.

We also noticed Schmaltz’s defensive game get better.  He was very quick on his feet and got much better at responsibly covering his zones.  His takeaways were reminiscent of Marian Hossa, who was one of the best two-way forwards the Blackhawks have had in years.

Of the criticisms Schmaltz has faced, the biggest have been his faceoff percentage and his size.  But both of those are in Schmaltz’s control this summer.  This offseason, he can hit the weight room and add strength to make it harder to take him off the puck.  And if he does one thing all summer, it should be practicing draws.  Jonathan Toews and the team would benefit immensely if Schmaltz was over 50 percent at the dot.

Where does Schmaltz fit in?

It’s pretty clear Schmaltz is penciled in to the Blackhawks’ top-six forward group.  Depending on if he can be successful at the faceoff dot, he can either play center or left wing on the line of Patrick Kane, with whom he has a lot of chemistry.  His speed and playmaking ability have meshed nicely with star players on the Blackhawks, who trust the young center.

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When it comes to competition, you have to start with Artem Anisimov.  He played with Kane and Artemi Panarin last season to form one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL.

Even though it was mostly the wingers doing the heavy lifting, Anisimov was where he needed to be when called upon.  Since the end of last season, Anisimov hasn’t had the same opportunities and has been demoted to the third line.

With a cap hit of $4.5M the next three years, his contract is probably one Bowman is trying to move to make cap space to potentially sign Schmaltz.

Another name that should be considered is Graham Knott.  The 2015 second-round pick hasn’t exactly panned out the way the Blackhawks imagined, but he still has the tools to be what the Blackhawks want out of a second-line center.

He’s a big body at 6-foot-4, but hasn’t really come into his own in Rockford with the IceHogs.  With just nine points in 69 games, Knott’s production is well below expectations, but he should see a lot more ice time in 2018-19.

What will Schmaltz demand?

Of the three players being evaluated, I believe Schmaltz will demand the most money.  Playing on a line next season with Kane in a contract year could be very beneficial for Schmaltz, who will make the best of his situation.  If he can stay healthy, Schmaltz will prove he is a big asset to the Blackhawks future plans moving forward.

With the way NHL teams have to cater to young, NHL-ready players, the bridge deal seems to be no more.  Those five-year, $32.5M contracts Toews and Kane signed probably enabled the ‘Hawks to win the Stanley Cup three times in six years.  But those days are over.  Schmaltz will most likely command a decent sized price tag with his upside.

Here are a few examples of young centermen who were signed to long-term deals after their entry-level contracts expired:

  • Sean Monahan – Calgary Flames – 7 years, $44M, $6.375M cap hit
  • Aleksander Barkov – Florida Panthers – 6 years, $35.4M, $5.9M cap hit
  • Alexander Wennberg – Columbus Blue Jackets – 6 years, $29.4M, $4.9M cap hit

Based on the market, the Blackhawks are looking at a long-term deal that will cost them on average of $5-6M per season.  The ‘Hawks do have some cap space this offseason, but it’s still complex with the Hossa money still on the books.

Next: For 2018-19 Blackhawks, Change Certainly Coming

The Connor Murphy and Anisimov deals also stick out like sore thumbs, but Bowman will probably find a way to keep Schmaltz in Chicago.  His maturity and development will be a lot of fun to watch over the next few years, and there is the possibility he will take on a leadership role as well.

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