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Blackhawks rookie tracker: Ryan Hartman pushes Michal Kempny for top spot

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A couple surprising names are vying for the title of top Blackhawks rookie just a couple months into the 2016-17 season.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Both a lot and very little has changed for the Blackhawks’ first-year players over the past month. There have been some real highlights, such as Vinnie Hinostroza’s three-point breakout game in Vancouver, but Chicago is still figuring out what it has in each of the rookies.

With that in mind, we’re very much due for an update to the rookie tracker, so let’s have at ‘em.

Vinnie Hinostroza

Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, 17 SOG, 10:39 ATOI, 50.6 percent 5v5 Corsi

We’re beginning to see signs that Hinostroza is figuring things out. Obviously there was the incredible performance in the comeback win over the Canucks, but there’s more to it. After putting up just six shots on goal in his first nine games, he’s racked up 11 in the past five contests.

That’s the sign of a player growing more comfortable with the puck on his stick, and it’s not just his own shots, either. During that same five-game stretch, the Hawks are taking over 60 percent of the 5-on-5 shots with Hinostroza on the ice. He’s showing chemistry with fellow rookie Ryan Hartman, too. If there’s one area of concern, it’s that he struggles with faceoffs (33 percent).

Nick Schmaltz

Stats: 1 goal, 3 assists, 13 SOG, 11:53 ATOI, 49.4 percent 5v5 Corsi

Schmaltz remains a difficult player to peg down given how much he moves around the lineup. Sometimes he’s the fourth-line center between a pair of offensively inept players like Andrew Desjardins and Jordin Tootoo. Other times, he’s been the No. 1 left winger beside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

So far, he hasn’t been a great fit in either role, but you can see why the Blackhawks are showing patience. Schmaltz is strong on the puck, gifted as a passer, and shows some ability as a backchecker when he wants to do the dirty work. Sometimes he gets too passive, whether it’s passing up a shooting opportunity or failing to show urgency on a forecheck, but there are substantial tools for Schmaltz to build upon.

When the alternatives are calling up a guy like Mark McNeill or shoveling minutes at Dennis Rasmussen, you can see why the Blackhawks have given Schmaltz a long rope.

Ryan Hartman

Stats: 5 goals, 1 assist, 36 SOG, 10:54 ATOI, 55.4 percent 5v5 Corsi

So this is what the next Andrew Shaw looks like, huh? I can’t believe I’m saying it after some of those listless showings during the preseason, but Hartman looks like the real deal. He’s been so solid over the past few couple weeks that he’s more or less cemented a place in the lineup. This is why you don’t re-sign Shaw for nearly $4 million annually over seven years.

Hartman is on a 23-goal pace over 82 games, and he’s doing it without a completely unsustainable shooting percentage (13.9 percent). Only three players on the team (Kane, Anisimov, Panarin) score more points per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play, and nobody has a better penalty differential than Hartman’s plus-5. His ability to draw penalties is just one part of a surprisingly complete game that’s making Hartman one of the best stories of the season so far.

Tyler Motte

Stats: 3 goals, 3 assists, 28 SOG, 12:30 ATOI, 46.6 percent 5v5 Corsi

Motte has slowed down since missing a couple weeks due to injury. He’s failed to record a point since Nov. 5 in Dallas, and seems to be trending toward a more defensive role. We’re seeing more of Motte on the Marcus Kruger line, which is obviously a tough assignment if you want to rack up points.

It’s also fair to wonder whether Motte is ready for that role. Only Andrew Desjardins and Gustav Forsling have worse possession numbers this season. When Motte is on the ice with Kruger, Chicago only takes 42.7 percent of the shot attempts. There’s still a lot to like about Motte’s game, but he’s stumbled since being No. 1 on our first rookie tracker.

Gustav Forsling

Stats: 1 goal, 3 assists, 25 SOG, 15:50 ATOI, 43.5 percent 5v5 Corsi

You have to assume that the Blackhawks expect a more seasoned Forsling to perform better because he’s simply not good enough right now. Between the flashes of potential, the defenseman has made a habit of panicked or wild defensive zone clearings that bring back memories of another highly touted Swedish defenseman who passed through Chicago.

Not that Forsling is that much like David Rundblad, but he simply needs to get better in his own end. This was one of the biggest concerns surrounding the 20-year-old given his lack of size and experience in the North American game. Right now, every partner who plays with Forsling does better away from him (via Natural Stat Trick):

Player Corsi w/ Forsling Corsi w/o Forsling
Niklas Hjalmarsson 45.7% 52.6%
Brian Campbell 43.3% 53.0%
Michal Rozsival 41.8% 50.0%

At a certain point, the Blackhawks will have to ask whether it’s time to accept that Forsling isn’t ready and put someone else in the lineup. The problem is that he can’t be demoted to Rockford, so you’re either leaving him in the press box (which would be bad) or sending him back to Sweden. This will be one to watch, especially once Trevor van Riemsdyk is healthy.

Michal Kempny

Stats: 0 goals, 2 assists, 23 SOG, 16:16 ATOI, 56.6 percent 5v5 Corsi

The only thing to stop Kempny’s run of strong possession numbers was Joel Quenneville’s curious decision to bench him recently. It was only temporary, but at this point, I’m not sure what reasonable argument could be made to hold Kempny out of the lineup.

The biggest knock is that he’s not much of an offensive creator, but as a defensive defenseman in a No. 4/5 role, it’s hard to expect much more from him. Kempny is second on the Blackhawks in 5v5 Corsi behind Artemi Panarin, and for a team that no longer dominates possession like it used to, that’s a big contribution in over 16 minutes per game. So far, no rookie has made a more positive impact on the Blackhawks this season.

Rankings

  1. Kempny
  2. Hartman
  3. Hinostroza
  4. Schmaltz
  5. Motte
  6. Forsling