What is Mike Hardman bringing to the Chicago Blackhawks?

Alex DeBrincat #12, Mike Hardman #86, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Alex DeBrincat #12, Mike Hardman #86, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

It only took three games, but the Rockford shuffle has begun for the Blackhawks. News broke Monday, October 18 that Ian Mitchell was being sent down to Rockford after playing in just one game. Hopefully, this means he’ll be penciled in for a larger role with the IceHogs.

Newly recalled forward, Mike Hardman is a bit of a head-scratcher for the Chicago Blackhawks. Three games into the season, it’s not clear what a bottom-6 depth forward is going to bring to the lineup. His recall carries a couple of things worth noting.

First of all, Chicago is apparently serious about keeping Erik Gustafsson as a regular member of the team. With a couple of other players like Wyatt Kalynuk and Caleb Jones out with injuries, this isn’t a big deal. It’s a bit odd though that the team is choosing to play a so-so veteran over a player that is expected to be a major of the organization’s future. If Mitchell were rotating in and out of the lineup with Gustafsson, it would make sense, but that doesn’t appear to be the plan. It would be ideal at this point if Mitchell started playing big minutes in Rockford, but we’ll have to wait and see.

What’s more, Hardman is a decent player, but he’s a good fit for the third or fourth line. With as bad as Chicago has been playing, it’s hard to see where he’s going to provide the spark that turns things around for the Blackhawks. He’ll be helpful on the forecheck, but his defensive contributions may be negligible.

Consider the lines in practice:

Is this what they should look like? Strome is once again on the outside looking in, and this time he’s been passed over by a hard-nosed grinder. For my part, I have to wonder if those trade rumors around Strome aren’t for real. It’s much easier to justify what we’re seeing here if Strome isn’t with the team much longer. In this case, Hardman’s addition makes more sense, especially if the return Strome were for a defenseman.

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If Strome is being traded, the healthy scratches, Carpenter and Gaudette, are people filling out the fourth line, and that makes more sense. If this is just for “reasons”, then having Hardman over Gaudette and/or Carpenter isn’t really worth it. Unless Strome is being traded, it looks like reaching to me. Colliton could have something sly up his leave, or this could be a hail mary by a guy who is on the hot seat. The game on Tuesday could be significant depending on how this plays out.