The Chicago Blackhawks have a bunch of rookies — six, to be exact — on the roster right now. That’s nearly one-third of the regular lineup, which almost qualifies as a youth movement until you realize the rest of the roster is full of expensive, experienced Cup winners.
With the first-year players in such big roles, they’re getting a lot of attention early in the season. Some of that has been the “Who the heck is that?” from fans who don’t follow the team’s prospect pipeline, but now we’re starting to get familiar with the rookies — and what they can do.
The Hawks probably won’t have another Calder Trophy winner this season — that award seems reserved for a superstar in the making like Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine or Toronto’s Auston Matthews — but we’ll be keeping close tabs on them. Here’s a look at how they’ve performed so far.
Stats: 0 goals, 0 assists, 1 SOG, 10:29 ATOI, 41.2 percent Corsi
Hinostroza was a healthy scratch the past two games after bouncing around the lineup for the first four games of the season. The reason for his benching seems pretty clear: he just wasn’t doing much. No forward has produced worse possession numbers at 5-on-5 so far this season, and he has put just one shot on goal.
You can expect Hinostroza to get another look soon, but the early returns weren’t encouraging. Despite impressive speed, he wasn’t able to play with the puck on his stick very often, and without that, he’s not a particularly useful player. More time next to a talented playmaker like Schmaltz might help, although Hinostroza has been the least impressive of the rookie forwards in Chicago.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 assists, 4 SOG, 11:27 ATOI, 41.3 percent Corsi
The first goal of Schmaltz’s career was impressive, but there haven’t been many other highlights. His linemates have constantly changed, like when he opened Saturday with Dennis Rasmussen and Jordin Tootoo before seeing extended time with Marian Hossa and Ryan Hartman.
The Rasmussen-Schmaltz-Tootoo actually dominated the Leafs in shots, 8-1, at 5-on-5, though, while a Hartman-Schmaltz-Hossa line was a complete disaster in getting outshot 12-0. It’s hard to explain that one, but the 2014 first-round pick has shown flashes in certain matchups. We’ll see if Joel Quenneville can figure out the best way to use him, or if he needs some time in Rockford.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 SOG, 8:37 ATOI, 44.1 percent Corsi
Hartman seems like he could find a place on Marcus Kruger’s line, and he’ll need to because I’m not sure he fits anywhere else. The 2013 first-round pick brings a lot of different things to the table, but he’s not a guy who likes to play with the puck or really create offense. He’s often filling the Andrew Shaw role by playing near the net.
That’s fine, although it means that Hartman needs to prove himself as a defensively responsible winger. One positive sign is that he’s avoided penalties so far, something that plagued him at times in the AHL. He’s not good enough offensively to move up in the lineup, but there’s more upside than some other fourth-line options if he can handle those minutes in the defensive zone.
Stats: 2 goals, 2 assists, 10 SOG, 14:00 ATOI, 47.2 percent Corsi
Motte is Chicago’s most impressive rookie so far. He’s scored two goals by showing a nose for the puck around the net, and regularly played on the penalty kill. Yes, the Hawks have been an unmitigated disaster while shorthanded, but like his promotion to Toews’ line, it speaks to how quickly the former Michigan star has earned Quenneville’s trust.
Some of the other rookies on this list are still proving they are NHLers. With Motte, he seems closer to answering that question while setting up new ones about just how high his potential is. I think ideally you’d see him in a third-line role rather than trying to keep up on the Toews line all season, but the fact that he’s held his own and scored a couple goals so far is encouraging.
Stats: 0 goals, 1 assist, 9 SOG, 17:44 ATOI, 45 percent Corsi
We haven’t really seen Forsling assert himself yet. He looked good in games against Columbus and Philadelphia, but he’s been inconsistent at even strength and not done a ton on the power play yet. He also never kills penalties, so it’s clear Chicago has him here to push things a bit offensively.
You can see why, because Forsling is fast, skilled and makes quick decisions with the puck. He’s small, but packs a big punch with his shot. You can tell the Hawks’ power play system asks him to defer primarily because he’s only taken two shots (including one that got blocked) in 15 minutes of 5-on-4 play, but I think the hope is that he’ll get chances to open things up over time.
Stats: 0 goals, 0 assists, 5 SOG, 16:46 ATOI, 51.1 percent Corsi
I’m not sure what to make of Kempny yet. He’s largely been fine, but only Keith, Hjalmarsson and Seabrook have played more 5-on-5 minutes per game so far. I’m not sure “fine” is quite enough, although I’m also not really sure what the team expects of him going forward. If you think of him as the team’s No. 5 or No. 6 defenseman, he seems solid, but he’s played more than that so far.