Rozner: Trade or not, Blackhawks need the kids

  • Chicago Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz, front, is congratulated as he passes the team box after scoring a goal against the Colorado Avalanche in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Denver.

    Chicago Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz, front, is congratulated as he passes the team box after scoring a goal against the Colorado Avalanche in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Denver.

Updated 1/30/2017 6:50 PM

Five seconds of a single game last week summed up nicely the last five months for Nick Schmaltz.

The rookie Blackhawks forward picked up a loose puck near the top of the circle and put it through Winnipeg's Patrik Laine. Schmaltz passed it to himself and picked it out of the air, corralling the puck in the corner as he turned and surveyed the Winnipeg end.


Schmaltz hesitated, never expecting to see open ice to the goal. Realizing he had time and space, Schmaltz walked to the net, searching for a pass the entire way. He looked off the goaltender and quickly fired a wrist shot, short side and high past Connor Hellebuyck.

The hesitation was telling -- and so was the talent.

Of all the Hawks' rookie forwards, Schmaltz has the best hands and maybe the most skill. He just needs to shoot the puck when he gets the opportunity.

"I think the guy we haven't tapped into yet is Schmaltz," GM Stan Bowman said last week. "I think he's got the most talent of those guys and we're going to start to see more of it.

"His confidence was down early when he wasn't playing so we sent him to Rockford for a month and he dominated games down there. He's been back a few games and he's a different player than he was.

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"I think there's more to his game than we've seen."

Schmaltz is one of several rookies lined up at times with Jonathan Toews, who's rarely had the same two players with him for more than a period or two at a time this year. While Toews hasn't complained, he's taken his share of criticism for a down year statistically, something Bowman contends is patently unfair.

"The biggest thing you notice about Jon is his approach never changes," Bowman said. "Of course, he's frustrated he hasn't scored more than he has been, but his attention to detail is the same as always.

"He has a tough assignment every night. He's always playing against the best players, and people don't necessarily watch how he competes and how he shuts those guys down.

"So I think that element is overlooked, as is his leadership and the way he interacts, things not everyone can see. He mentors the young guys and he goes out of his way to look out for them, making sure they're not alone, making sure they're OK and that they have someone to go to lunch with or dinner with.


"The kids tend to stay together and he breaks that mold and keeps the team together. He does so much that goes unnoticed.

"But the points are going to come. I never worry about him. He's the last guy you have to worry about."

Toews had 6 points against Vancouver and Tampa last week, suggesting he's about to get hot again.

"Nothing's really any different," Toews said. "It's just getting a bounce that gets you going, getting a puck that lands on your stick instead of hopping right over it. The chances have been there and maybe I was squeezing the stick a bit, but the chances are there."

And Toews said he doesn't mind one bit if he continues to play with the youngsters.

"I'm impressed with those guys," Toews said. "Every game it seems like a different guy is stepping up.

"We have a bunch of young guys who aren't sitting around waiting for someone else to get it done. They take accountability and know they have a responsibility to contribute, and they do.

"Those guys know they have to bring it and that's what they've done all season."

So whether it's Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tyler Motte, Tanner Kero, Gustav Forsling or Michal Kempny, the kids are here and they're going to play, and the Hawks need them to play well if they intend to go far this season.

With the trade deadline about a month away, much will be discussed about whom the Hawks should acquire and which players should be dealt.

Either way, the kids will go a long way toward determining just how far the Hawks can travel.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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