Next up on our list of the Blackhawks Top 25 players under the age of 25 in 2016 is Tanner Kero, who comes in at No. 15. Kero was signed as a college free agent after putting together a strong senior season and serving as captain at Michigan Tech. His first year as a pro saw him split some time between the Blackhawks and their AHL affiliate Rockford.
Birth date: July 24, 1992
Acquired via: Signed as free agent on April 2, 2015
Most recent stop: Rockford IceHogs (AHL)
Size: 6’, 185 pounds
Contract: ELC, signed through 2016-17
Kero’s first professional season was not overly impessive, but could still probably be considered a successful one for the 24-year-old forward. After being called up early on in the season, Kero spent 17 games with the Blackhawks, but struggled to produce, posting just three points (one goal, two assists) while playing mostly third-line minutes. He struggled in terms of possession, as well, with a Corsi For of 46.88 at 5v5.
However, after being reassigned in December to Rockford, Kero was able to get back on the right offensive track. He posted 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 60 games with the IceHogs. While that production isn’t overwhelming, it was a strong first step into the professional realm for Kero.
Kero’s strengths as a player lay in his versatility, creativity and vision. As a bit of an undersized player, he uses his ability to see the ice and good passing ability to make plays offensively, while also remaining a responsible defensive player. He can also play all three forward positions if need be, giving coaches more options. Having a player with that kind of playmaking ability, defensive game and versatility can be a major advantage to an NHL team.
He’s a pretty good goal scorer, as well, evidenced by his 20 goals in the AHL last season. In addition to those, he notched five goals in his first six professional games after signing as a free agent in 2015, and that was coming off a 20-goal season for Michigan Tech as well.
The next step for Kero is going to be putting all of those tools together and proving he can do it at the NHL level. If he can do that, he could be a solid third line forward for years to come. However, the clock may be starting to click on him in this regard, as he’s now 24 years old and has yet to show he can do that despite being given the opportunity last season.
What's next in 2016-17
Kero will likely get a long look when it comes to making the Hawks roster out of training camp this fall. The Hawks have some forward depth issues, and if Kero can prove he belongs on the main roster, he could prove to be an useful asset to the team. However, he’ll have plenty of competition from other young players on this list. In the end, don’t be surprised if Kero splits time between the Chicago and Rockford yet again in 2016-17.
Second City Hockey's Top 25 Under 25 rankings
No. 15: Tanner Kero
No. 16: Artur Kayumov
No. 17: Carl Dahlstrom
No. 18: Dennis Gilbert
No. 19: Luc Snuggerud
No. 20: Robin Norell
No. 21: Robin Press
No. 22: Dylan Sikura
No. 23: Graham Knott
No. 24: Anthony Louis
No. 25: Roy Radke
Honorable mentions: Radovan Bondra, Joni Tuulola, Mathias From, John Dahlstrom, Lucas Carlsson