Matthew Highmore wasn’t on this list last season. An undrafted free agent signing by the Blackhawks in March 2017, Highmore spent about a full calendar year with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. By last season’s trade deadline, though, Highmore was Rockford’s leading scorer with 35 points (21 goals, 14 assists) in 56 games. When a flurry of trades freed up a forward position at the NHL level, Highmore got the call and made his NHL debut this spring.
Birth date: Feb. 27, 1996
Acquired via: Signed us an undrafted free agent in March 2017
Most recent stop: Rockford IceHogs — AHL (also appeared in 13 NHL games)
Size: 5’11, 181 pounds
Contract: Two years, $775,833 cap hit (entry-level deal)
Last year’s ranking: Unranked
Highmore played 13 games with the Blackhawks, scoring the first two goals of his NHL career before going down with an injury in late March.
That first goal broke a 3-3 tie in Boston:
One week later, he was sent back to the IceHogs and helped Rockford reach the conference finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Because of that stint in Chicago, Highmore was just shy of being the IceHogs’ points leader for 2017-18, finishing one behind Anthony Louis’ 44-point season. In 13 postseason games, Highmore added two goals and seven assists.
The possession metrics were all in Highmore’s favor during his brief stint with the Hawks. He had a positive Corsi-For percentage at 52.43 while his zone starts were perfectly spread between the offensive and defensive zones, according to Corsica’s data. Natural Stat Trick also had Highmore in a virtually even 31-32 spread of high-danger chances for and against, respectively. Just two goals in 13 games is relatively low for a player who was one of Rockford’s biggest scoring threats all season, but can be forgiven for a player making his first NHL appearance.
But Highmore did display a commitment to playing defense from his forward position, something that will help Highmore earn the trust of the defensively-minded coach Joel Quenneville. During those 13 games, Highmore appeared on the penalty kill for an average of nearly one minute each night.
What’s next in 2018-19?
There will be a major battle for a few third and fourth-line spots at training camp this fall and Highmore will be in the middle of that competition. The trade of Vinnie Hinostroza in the offseason removes one of the few players with NHL experience in that competition, improving the odds for Highmore to start the season at the NHL level. Should he end up in Rockford though, Highmore figures to be high on the list of players Chicago calls up when injuries or trades require a move. Highmore should get at least one more chance to prove himself at the NHL level this season.