Ryan Hartman thought he would be a Blackhawk forever. Now he's thriving with the Wild

  • Minnesota Wild former Ryan Hartman is on pace for 37 goals this season.

    Minnesota Wild former Ryan Hartman is on pace for 37 goals this season. Associated Press

  • Minnesota's Ryan Hartman has never lost his feistiness, here duking it out with Tampa Bay's Zach Bogosian in November.

    Minnesota's Ryan Hartman has never lost his feistiness, here duking it out with Tampa Bay's Zach Bogosian in November. Associated Press

  • Ryan Hartman playing for the Hawks in March 2017.

    Ryan Hartman playing for the Hawks in March 2017. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Ryan Hartman says he always checks out the sign featuring Chicago Mission alumni when he works out at Fifth Third Arena in Chicago.

    Ryan Hartman says he always checks out the sign featuring Chicago Mission alumni when he works out at Fifth Third Arena in Chicago. Daily Herald Photo

 
 
Updated 1/22/2022 7:49 AM

Ryan Hartman loves Chicago. Always has, always will.

Growing up in West Dundee, he lived and died with the Blackhawks while honing his skills with the Schaumburg Kings, Chicago Mission and Team Illinois.

 

But, really, what were the odds the Hawks would draft Hartman in 2013?

Hometown kid going to hometown team?

Not likely.

That dream became reality when the Hawks selected him with the 30th pick.

"It was crazy," said Hartman, who is on pace for a whopping 37 goals and returns to the Windy City attempting to help lead Minnesota to victory over his former team Friday. "A lot of kids, they grew up cheering for their team if they're from Boston or New York or wherever. They grew up fans of those teams and then when they get drafted they have to turn that off and start focusing on where they are now playing. I didn't have to do that."

Of course, pro sports can be a cruel world -- something Hartman and his family found out at the 2018 trade deadline.

Tough day

After spending two seasons in the AHL with Rockford, Hartman put together an impressive 19-goal campaign as the 2016-17 Hawks were the No. 1 seed in the West. Coach Joel Quenneville gave his hard-nosed winger a variety of roles, including centering for a bit on a line with Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin.

The Hawks struggled the next season, in large part because of Corey Crawford's concussion. As the team hit the ice for practice Feb. 26, 2018, Hartman was nowhere to be found.

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Teammates soon learned GM Stan Bowman sent him to Nashville in exchange for Victor Ejdsell, and first- and fourth-round picks. (The Hawks used them to select D-man Nicolas Beaudin and Philipp Kurashev).

The move stunned Hartman, his family and several Hawks who murmured among themselves in the dressing room after practice.

"When I first got drafted I never thought I was gonna leave," Hartman said. "I thought I was gonna be a Blackhawk forever.

"It's very rare, I guess, in the NHL for one player to stay in one place their whole career. ... But you never really picture yourself being traded. That's where my head was at.

"It sucked initially. It was kind of tough on my family."

New chapter

In the ensuing days and weeks Hartman came to realize, hey, maybe this isn't so bad. Instead of playing out the schedule, he was suddenly on a Predators squad that believed he could help guide them to a Stanley Cup.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Ever since being a part of that '15 (Hawks) team and seeing the Cup run, the party, the parade and all that stuff -- that's been my goal," Hartman said. "So going to Nashville and having a chance was not anything to be down about."

And while one side of the family was understandably bummed, Hartman's grandmother was thrilled. Having never seen her grandson play in the NHL, she often made the two-hour drive from Birmingham to attend Predators' home games.

She passed away during Hartman's second season in Nashville.

"She came to a bunch of games my first year there," Hartman said. "So both sides of the family have (had) the feel of me playing at home. It was pretty cool."

The Predators were eliminated by Winnipeg in seven games in the second round. Hartman opened the scoring in Game 4, a 2-1 Preds victory that evened the series.

Hartman scored 10 goals in 64 games in 2018-19, but was shipped to Philadelphia at the trade deadline as Nashville was getting set to make another playoff run.

Suddenly his career was at a crossroads and it was easy to wonder if all he'd be is a bottom-six grinder who bounced from team to team.

The big decision

Many teams wooed Hartman -- now an unrestricted free agent -- in the summer of 2019. He looked at more than the contract offers while deciding where to go. In the end, the Wild won out because they had room on the depth chart and didn't have many right-shot forwards.

Hartman enjoyed modest success during his first two seasons, scoring 16 goals in 120 games.

This year, though, Hartman has raised his game to an entirely new level.

So what changed?

Quite a few things, but the No. 1 catalyst can be traced to a conversation he had with Wild GM Bill Guerin near the end of last season.

"There were some points where maybe on a 2-on-1, I tried to make a pass through a 'D' as opposed to shooting," said Hartman, whose contract carries a $1.7 million cap hit through 2023-24. "Billy's not afraid to tell you, 'Listen, you're not a 100-point guy or a skill guy that's gonna feed a perfect pass every time. Shoot the damn puck.' "

Hartman has heeded that advice. He's on pace for 281 shots on goal, which would blow away his career high of 170 from his rookie season with the Hawks.

Hartman scored in 13 of Minnesota's first 23 games and has 16 goals and 14 assists. He's centering a line with Kirill Kaprizov (16G, 28A) and Mats Zuccarello (11G, 21A) on the wings.

Kaprizov was chosen for the All-Star Game, and Hartman was on the fan ballot for Last Man In.

"It has a similar feel as my first year in Chicago," said Hartman, who is on the power play and penalty kill and averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time. "When you play those type of minutes, you feel the flow of the game, you're involved, you're making a difference -- as opposed to playing 7-10 minutes and you get the puck and it feels foreign on your stick."

Hartman's ability to play anywhere on the ice began to take shape under Quenneville, who often played wingers on their off side.

Now, Hartman's putting everything together -- using his deceptive shot to catch goalies off guard, playing responsible defensively, passing at the right times and still being that annoying, nip-at-your heels blue-collar guy that makes life miserable for opponents.

"I've always kind of just did whatever the coaches needed me to do," Hartman said. "Just kind of like, 'Hey, you need to play defense today.'

" 'OK. Whatever helps.'

"I didn't expect to be full time (at center). After 10 games ... I felt really comfortable and I was playing my best hockey I've played in a while."

Sweet home, Chicago

Hartman has hardly abandoned his hometown. The 27-year-old lives in Lincoln Park in the summer while renting the place out during the season. Hawks defenseman Connor Murphy was his first tenant and Caleb Jones is the current occupant.

During the off-season, Hartman spends time with Murphy, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat working out at Fifth Third Arena, going to restaurants and playing golf at Beverly Country Club.

Hartman loves playing at the United Center and it will be no surprise if he shows Friday why it wasn't the best idea for the Hawks to trade him. He admitted he'd root for them more if he'd stop playing for teams in the Central Division.

No matter what, no one can take away the memories he had playing for teams around the city -- and dozens more created while playing 141 games for the Hawks.

"It's definitely always great to go back," Hartman said. "I'm lucky enough to go back in the summers and get my city fix in for a couple months. By the end of the summer I'm ready to get out of there. ...

"In the summer we go through Fifth Third and the Mission plays there. They've got a board in the lobby: Mission Alumni. So I get to see all the guys I played with that moved on to college and pro every day I go in for workouts.

"That connection is always there."

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