With 3 goals and 6 assists in the Blackhawks' first seven games, Ryan Hartman's sophomore season in the NHL was off to an epic start.
Everything was clicking for the 23-year-old winger, who was skating on the second line with Patrick Kane, as the Hawks blazed out of the gates with a 4-2-1 start.
Scouting reportBlackhawks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 6 p.m. Saturday
TV: WGN Radio: 720-AM
The skinny: The two-time defending champion Penguins have won their last two games but are scuffling along at 11-7-3. The Hawks beat Pittsburgh 10-1 in their season opener. "I'm sure they're going to be excited about playing us," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. ... Phil Kessel and Conor Sheary are Pittsburgh's leading goal scorers with 8 each. Sidney Crosby has 1 goal in the past 13 games. ... Matt Murray is 11-4-1, but he ranks just 21st in save percentage (.906) among goalies with at least eight appearances. ... Alex DeBrincat is tied for second among rookies with 7 goals. Arizona's Clayton Keller leads the league with 11. ... Duncan Keith (sick) did not practice the last two days, but Quenneville said he should be good to go vs. Pittsburgh. ... Corey Crawford starts in net.
Next: Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena, 6:30 p.m. Saturday
-- John Dietz
But since scoring at St. Louis on Oct. 18, the well has gone dry for Hartman, and coach Joel Quenneville made him a healthy scratch during Sunday's 7-5 loss to the Devils.
"It's part of hockey," Hartman said after practice Tuesday. "There's times where we needed to change things up because things aren't going well. Went through some of those last year and I came back strong, so I'm looking forward to getting back in."
Not only did the re-energized Hartman return to the lineup in the Hawks' 6-3 victory over the Rangers on Wednesday, he also came back as a center. Quenneville started him on the fourth line, but Hartman spent the final two periods wreaking havoc with Patrick Sharp and Alex DeBrincat.
"I thought Hartsy had a real good game," Quenneville said. "He did a lot of good things and made a lot of plays. … He had a real purpose to his game and had a puck a lot too."
Quenneville tried Hartman at center once late last season, pairing him with Kane and Artemi Panarin. All he did that night was score 2 goals -- the second coming with 63 seconds remaining to tie the game -- in a 5-4 OT loss to Vancouver.
Before Wednesday's contest, Hartman bent Jonathan Toews' ear, looking for some sage advice from the Hawks' captain.
"As a natural winger, you kind of have that habit of wanting to go out to the point (on defense)," said Hartman, who scored 19 goals as a rookie. "I asked (Toews) some questions before the game and he helped me. Just make sure you're between the puck and the net at all times."
If he proves capable, Hartman's ability to play in the middle will only help his career arc. That was certainly the case for Sharp, who has been awfully impressed by his linemate thus far.
"Personally speaking, I started my career as an extra forward," Sharp said. "Played center, left wing, right wing -- did whatever I could to be in the league. I'm not comparing myself to Hartsy in any way. I think he's head and shoulders above where I was at his age.
"He's well on his way to having a great career. He's going to be a big part of our team going forward."
The one knock on Hartman coming out of the AHL was his propensity to take too many penalties. He did a decent job of staying out of the penalty box last season, with 27 of his 70 minutes coming in back-to-back games in February.
This season, Hartman hasn't been reckless, but a double minor for high sticking at Colorado on Oct. 28 proved costly as the Avs scored 32 seconds later to take a 3-0 lead late in the first period.
Hartman (16 PIM) was also whistled for holding at Carolina on Saturday six minutes into the third period. The Hawks, who won 4-3 in overtime, were trailing 3-2 at the time and were fortunate the Hurricanes couldn't cash in.
"I tried to stop the guy from getting a breakaway. It was a tough time to take a penalty," Hartman said. "Any time you put your team down (a man) late in the game -- when you're either trying to come back or hold the lead -- it's tough. So I just need to learn from those."
Quenneville would love it if he did just that and continues to energize the Hawks with the hard-nosed, gritty style that's gotten him this far. As for his offensive numbers, Hartman, who has 1 goal in his last 11 games, said he isn't worried about trying to top his somewhat surprising goal total from last season.
"I didn't really set a number last year," he said. "Actually, last year was just me wanting to make the team. This year is kind of the same thing -- I just want to be in the lineup every night and be a difference-maker. That's playing physical and winning my battles.
"The goals come hand in hand with that. … My goal really is to be dominant every night."