Watching these Blackhawks rookies keep stepping up over and over never gets old. That’s especially the case when the Hawks go visit the Maple Leafs in Toronto, where their fans cannot stop gushing over an admittedly thrilling group of first-year players led by Auston Matthews.
On Saturday night, Matthews might’ve scored a goal, but it was Ryan Hartman and John Hayden who stole the show in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win. Instead of having Matthews’ impressive night undone by the old guard of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, it was Chicago’s very own rookies who led the comeback.
For Blackhawks fans, it’s just the latest in a long line of great memories from young players this season. Hayden’s first NHL goal wasn’t just great because it was his first — the winger made a stellar play to kick the puck from his skate to his stick before firing a perfect wrist shot. If he’s got that in him, maybe the team has uncovered a gem. The winger did have four shots on goal and seven hits in addition to tying the game.
But more than the surprise play of Hayden, it’s Hartman doing what Hartman does that’s exciting. Getting a taste of Hayden is great, but we’re going to need more than one bite to fully determine whether we got filet mignon or a cheeseburger from Hardee’s.
Hartman, on the other hand, is becoming a proven commodity on the Blackhawks with each passing game. His 16 even strength goals on the season trails just Matthews and Patrik Laine among NHL rookies, and that comes in significantly less playing time. As I wrote recently at The Athletic, his numbers stand out among Hawks rookies not just in terms of raw production, but in terms of the signs that he’ll be able to keep it up in Year 2 and beyond.
A crucial part of that is shot generation, and that’s something Hartman did big-time against the Maple Leafs on Saturday. In under 14 minutes of ice time, the rookie put up a game-high six shots on goal. Matthews, on the other hand, had just three shots in nearly 19 minutes.
Not that Hartman could match Matthews’ overall efficiency, especially at the volume that he does it, but it’s closer than you’d think. Matthews averages 2.1 points and 11.5 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, per Hockey-Reference. Hartman is just behind at 1.9 points and 10.6 shots, which are both fantastic numbers behind the superlative Matthews.
Hayden may not prove to be a keeper to the same degree as Hartman, but the early signs are encouraging that the Blackhawks might have found another good piece. Sure, it’s only one game, but for now, it was a pretty great example of why Chicago’s rookies, from Hartman to Hayden, have helped make this season a good one.