As the Blackhawks marched deeper and deeper into the postseason last year, reporters kept hammering the team's Fab Four defensemen with the same questions.
How are you able to play so many minutes? Can you keep it up?
Aren't you tired?
Even a little?
In the end, maybe they were, but Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya survived despite playing what seemed like every minute of every one of the Hawks' 23 playoff games.
Now, as the 2016 postseason gets underway Wednesday in St. Louis without Keith for Game 1, the question will be whether Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Rozsival and Erik Gustafsson/Viktor Svedberg can eat up enough minutes and contribute to another title run.
"We'd like to think we can play comparable minutes from one through six and get a little bit more balance," coach Joel Quenneville said after the Hawks practiced at Johnny's IceHouse West on Monday.
Of those four, the coaching staff probably trusts van Riemsdyk the most. A year after playing just 18 regular-season games and four in the playoffs, van Riemsdyk played all 82 games this season, averaging 19:59 of ice time.
While it wasn't a perfect rookie season for the 24-year-old, he made huge strides and impressed teammates and coaches.
"Usually a young defenseman coming into the league, they're a little bit more unpredictable," Keith said. "Defense is a very hard position to learn. You make a mistake, it's a scoring chance the other way a lot of times. …
"He's got so much poise for a young guy and patience that he can make plays. … It's been huge for our team."
Van Riemsdyk, who suffered two injuries last season, is fortunate that he isn't walking into Game 1 devoid of playoff experience. Remember, the undrafted rookie played in Games 3-6 of the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay last June.
"That's definitely huge to have that under your belt, knowing that you've been out there when it meant the most and (when) that intensity (was) just dialed up a whole 'nother level," van Riemsdyk said. "You know you can play when it gets stepped up, and you've just got to be ready."
Van Riemsdyk had modest numbers (3 goals and 11 assists), but he showed flashes of speed, puck-handling and passing. It's obvious his offensive game will continue to develop as the years go by.
"He's got some upside and he's got some real good vision with the puck," Quenneville said. "He has good play recognition on when to join the attack or the rush."
Said Keith: "Your first job is to play good defense and get the puck up to the forwards. For a young guy, he's taken up that challenge. A lot of times you see a young guy kind of force the issue if they have that offensive skill. But I think he's been patient and smart in that regard. … His offensive game will get better off of that."
Van Riemsdyk learned a lot this year, both on and off the ice. He wouldn't point out a single teammate who influenced him, but said that by observing the veterans he realized this is a 24-hour job. You can't just show up for a couple of hours at the rink and call it a day. He watches what he eats, as well.
"You've really got to take care of yourself," he said.
The Hawks will be counting on van Riemsdyk to take everything he learned and transfer it to the postseason, especially Wednesday when they will be without Keith. He's proud that he didn't miss a game, and can't wait for the season's most exciting time to get underway.
"Obviously last year, only coming in at the end, you kind of miss the buildup and the whole grind," van Riemsdyk said. "It's exciting, especially playing all the games this year, knowing … how hard you have to battle to get here.
"It's really an honor to be heading into the playoffs with this great group of guys."
• Follow John on Twitter @johndietzdh.