Three Chicago Blackhawks look to go from hopefuls to mainstays
Vinnie Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero have all tasted what it feels like to be an NHL player.
Turning those appetizers into full-fledged meals is now the goal for the three talented youngsters, all of whom are participating in the Chicago Blackhawks' Prospect Camp at Johnny's IceHouse West this week.
On the Hawks' current roster, only Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger figure to be everyday locks among the bottom six forwards. Dennis Rasmussen, Brandon Mashinter and Jordin Tootoo are all low-cost options who will compete with Hinostroza, Hartman, Kero, Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte and maybe a surprise player or two for ice time.
For now, figure Richard Panik is penciled in on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, but we all know how fluid that situation is with coach Joel Quenneville calling the shots.
"It gets you in the gym earlier," Hartman said. "Gets you doing the extra things because you know there's a spot and if you don't do whatever you can to do it, you're going to be kicking yourself at the end."
Hartman has spent most of the last two seasons honing his craft in Rockford, scoring 28 goals in 130 games. A first-round pick of the Hawks in 2013, he does have eight NHL games under his belt.
The 6-foot, 194-pound West Dundee native could be the answer to the void left by Andrew Shaw's departure to Montreal.
"I think that's my game. We play really similar styles," Hartman said. "We feed off energy and make plays at the net; hard players to play against.
"I've watched him for a while now … and really just took some things from his game, and it's really kind of helped me play and know what it takes to be an NHL player."
Rockford IceHogs head coach Ted Dent, who is at camp this week, saw all three of these guys grow their games last season. He was impressed with how Hartman learned to bring a ton of energy every night and not leave anything behind.
As for Kero and Hinostroza, Dent said they both have a pass-first mentality but are definitely not the same player.
"Hinostroza is very elusive, has a lot of speed," Dent said. "He's playing center or the wing. Last year we tried him at both so it gives Joel and option on where to use him because it's not yet determined which position he'll play.
"Kero's more of a faceoff guy, takes a lot of pride in that. Defensively, he's always in the right position. He's always underneath the puck; he doesn't cheat the game in that respect."
Dent went on to laud Kero's versatility, saying he's proficient in shooting, passing, driving to the net and digging pucks out of the corner.
Hinostroza scored 18 goals in 66 games with Rockford and had two stints with the Hawks last season, playing in seven games. The Bartlett native admitted to being "really nervous" at the United Center during his first few games.
Kero had a 17-game run on the big squad that lasted from Oct. 29-Dec. 6. He scored a goal at New Jersey in his fifth game and added 2 assists.
Getting sent back to Rockford wasn't easy for Kero, but he told himself not to overthink things or to get too mad. The Hawks told him to work on getting more comfortable with the puck and to be more offensive-minded.
"It seemed like I was fighting it here and there towards the end of the stretch when I was up there," said Kero, who had 20 goals in 60 games with Rockford. "They wanted me to get that confidence again to start scoring and playing more offensively."
Dent wouldn't handicap this trio's chances of making the team, saying things literally change on a week-to-week basis.
With only so many openings on the roster, one would think players might actually root against one another at Prospects Camp or during training camp.
Hinostroza, though, said that's not true and the players wholeheartedly enjoy the competition.
"Yeah, we do," he said. "When somebody scores a goal, you say 'good job.' But then you try go score a nicer goal or do something better. But it's really fun; it's a good atmosphere."
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