(The top 10 continues in our ranking of the Hawks' best players under 25 years old! Check out all the previous entries in the series with our storystream.)
There is arguably no more polarizing player on the Blackhawks or within the organization than the 24-year-old forward Andrew Shaw. One of the few players on the team capable of causing you to yell at your television in anger and jubilation at different times within the same shift, Shaw seems to always bring some sort of emotion out of you with something he does on the ice. Mostly because, all things considered, he's a pretty good hockey player. And because he's a good hockey player, he comes in at No. 4 on our list of the Blackhawks' best young players.
Because he's already been with the Blackhawks for a few years, it's almost difficult to remember that Shaw is still so young, having just turned 24 this summer. After making his debut for the 'Hawks in January 2012, he's been with the big club ever since, returning to the AHL only during the 2013 lockout. He's had a lot of success as a pro player so far.
As a rookie in 2012-13, Shaw posted 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 37 appearances, a very respectable clip for a 20-year-old making his debut. He saw a slight decline in that production during the 2012-13 season, scoring just nine goals and six assists for 15 total points despite appearing in all 48 games of the lockout-shortened season. However, he saw those numbers shoot up during the 2013-14 season, when he posted a career-best 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) while appearing in all 82 games. This past season, he appeared in 79 games and produced 26 points, scoring 15 goals and adding 11 assists. All in all, Shaw has produced 103 points (56 goals, 47 assists) in 244 NHL games, a very respectable production rate for a player who's just 24.
And beyond his regular season stats, he's also been quite productive in the playoffs for Chicago, filling a pretty key role on two Stanley Cup championship teams already. During the 2013 run, he posted four goals and five assists in 23 appearances, and followed that with two goals and six assists in 12 games in 2014. This past postseason was his best yet, as he appeared in 23 games and produced five goals, seven assists, and one very awesome non-goal:
It's a true shame that the official NHL rule that disallowed that goal is just vague enough to disallow a headed goal, because if that goal had counted, that's a video we would be showing our children and grandchildren years from now (though we still may do that). Regardless, Shaw's instincts there epitomize the attitude with which he plays the game, which is essentially "do what you have to do to win." If the team needs a lift, you can often catch Shaw laying a big hit or instigating a fight in an effort to get the guys going. If the team needs a goal, he'll skate through a wall to get one, even if it means quite literally using his head.
And all of that is great, except for when it isn't. Because often times, Shaw takes a stupid penalty while trying to lay that hit or pick that fight. Or he tries to do too much with the puck and ends up turning it over. Or he's out of position defensively, leading to a goal for the other team. And this is what makes Andrew Shaw such a polarizing player.
At different times last season, Shaw filled the roles of the most frustrating player on the Blackhawks, and the most exciting. Granted, not all of it was his fault. From time to time, in an effort to shake things up during a bad stretch, Coach Q would play Shaw as the third-line center. Prior to (and even for a while after) the trade deadline acquisition of Antoine Vermette, Shaw spent most of his time at the center position last year.
The problem is that when in that role, Shaw is easily one of the most difficult Blackhawks to watch. He's not especially good on the dot, having won just 50.14 percent of his faceoffs during the 2014-15 regular season, and an even 50 percent during the playoffs. Further, while he's not awful defensively, he's certainly not responsible enough defensively to be the pivot. During the 2014-15 regular season, Shaw posted a 53.87 percent CF at 5v5 play, good for a Relative-CF of just .15 percent. That came while starting 60.11 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. So while Shaw can play center, that doesn't mean that he should.
Instead, Shaw is at his best when he's used in a bottom-six winger role. During last year's playoffs, Shaw spent most of the time playing wing on the checking line with Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger. In 23 playoff games, he posted a 52.5 percent CF in 5v5 play, despite starting just 28.78 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. That is a very small drop off from his regular season possession stats, even with the extremely different usage.
This stark contrast in effectiveness plays a large role in making Shaw the polarizing player that he is. You love to watch him when he's playing the simple game on the wing, but can get completely fed up with him when he's at center. You can admire the hard work he puts in that leads to a greasy goal, or boil with rage when he flails his stick into the face of an opponent and takes a penalty with five minutes left in the third period of a tie game. It's tough to really gauge your personal feelings for him, because sometimes you want to wear his jersey for a week straight, and other times you want to burn it very publicly.
But again, Shaw did just turn 24 year old last month. There's a lot of hockey left in his career, and hopefully that will be with the Blackhawks. Because while he can be frustrating at times, Shaw is truly a joy to watch play hockey. He is a guy who wants to win above all else, but has a hell of a lot of fun playing the game, and it is beyond evident.
However, his future is somewhat tough to judge. As previously stated, most of the evidence about his play shows that he is best used in a bottom-six winger role. But to this point, we still haven't seen Shaw in much of a top-six wing role, so there's nothing to say he can't develop into that kind of player. He's already got a 20-goal season and two Stanley Cups under his belt before he even turned 24, so there's most certainly a load of potential for growth in the coming years. After all, it's tough to doubt the potential of a player who's already achieved what Shaw has despite being undrafted twice and still having to wait until the fifth round the third time around. The key for Shaw will be if gets those opportunities to step into a bigger role, and what he does with them if and when they come.
Birth date: July 20, 1991 (age 24)
Acquired via: Fifth round (139th overall), 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Most recent stop: Chicago Blackhawks
Size: 5'11, 180 pounds
Contract: $2 million cap hit for 2015-16; RFA in 2017
Highest ranking: No. 3
Lowest ranking: No. 5