Amid the flurry of news that came during the NHL trade deadline, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled young forward Matthew Highmore from the AHL for the first time. The 22-year-old was needed after the team moved Tommy Wingels, Lance Bouma, and Ryan Hartman off the roster in separate moves.
Highmore still hasn’t made his NHL debut yet given the Blackhawks are off until Thursday night, but he’s an intriguing addition to the roster. The undrafted forward put up big numbers in the QMJHL before earning an NHL contract, and this season, he leads the IceHogs with 21 goals and 35 points in 56 games.
Those performances were enough to get him to the NHL, which is impressive for someone who recorded just 24 points in 62 games in the QMJHL during his age-18 season. At that point, it wasn’t difficult to see why he wasn’t drafted.
However, Highmore broke out as a 19-year-old with 75 points in 65 games, then performed even better as a 20-year-old with 89 points in 64 games. That’s when the Blackhawks decided he earned an ELC and brought him to Rockford for the 2016-17 season.
On a team full of new players, Highmore has been a revelation. He leads the team in goals, power play goals, points, and shots on goal.
However, this is where the perspective is needed. Highmore didn’t get drafted partially because he’s undersized (5’11, 181 pounds) and doesn’t bring elite skill to the table. He’s a good skater who plays a 200-foot game, but there’s a real chance that he’s a tweener at the next level whose not skilled enough to play a top-six role and not really built to play a bottom-six role. It’s possible he’s more Tanner Kero than Vinnie Hinostroza.
Leading the IceHogs in points is great, but 35 points in 56 AHL games isn’t exactly monster production. That’s 0.63 points per game, which is good, but it’s still behind, say, Hinostroza, who recorded 0.75 points per game in the AHL. They were both 21 years old during their first full AHL seasons, too.
And remember, even Hinostroza isn’t some sure thing for the Blackhawks. He’s shown some very impressive flashes but hasn’t established himself yet in the same way Nick Schmaltz or Alex DeBrincat has.
Maybe Highmore has a more complete game than Hinostroza, but otherwise there’s a good chance he’s the poor man’s version of that. And if that’s ultimately the case, then he’s probably going to have a tough time maintaining a steady spot on a team with solid forward depth.
So while I’m undeniably excited to see what Highmore can do in a Blackhawks uniform, expectations should be tempered in terms of the impact he could make. There’s a chance that he’s a solid depth contributor in short order, but lots of undersized forwards can produce in the AHL. We’ll have to see if he’s one of the few who can translate it to the big leagues.