Which Blackhawks Rookie Makes the Cut?

Here is a quick take on several of the young forwards in the Blackhawks organization whom will be vying for a role on the big club this year. Which ones will make the team? They will likely look like this coming out of training camp:

First, assess what the forward ‘locks’ are at this point.

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Extra: Tootoo or Mashinter

The extra forward will be either Tootoo or Mashinter because the Hawks require a face puncher to be on the roster for the regular season. From what I understand the star players and the coach are on the same page with this. The other forwards are listed where they ended last season in the playoffs.

The candidates:

Nick Schmaltz – The 1st round pick and University of North Dakota center finished on one of the highest scoring lines in college hockey last year. At 6’0” 180 lbs, he comes with a reputation as a highly skilled forward who does not play a physical game and has been challenged in the defensive zone but took a nice step forward in that area last season.

Tyler Motte – A former 4th round pick, the University of Michigan winger who played on college hockey’s highest scoring line last season. Last year saw a huge leap in his offensive output, as he had a knack for going to the net and making plays. A compact 5’9” but sturdy 191 lbs, Motte comes with a complete defensive game, excellent speed, and a willingness to block shots which will likely endear him to coach Joel Quennville.

Vince Hinostroza – Former 6th round pick left Notre Dame after his sophomore season to go pro, and put in his rookie professional year with the AHL’s Rockford Icehogs last season. After playing 7 games with the Blackhawks and starting the season slowly in Rockford, he scored his first goal in December and then came on like gangbusters to lead the team in scoring with 18 goals and 51 points. An undersized guy with good speed and a skilled game, Hinostroza has garnered complements from the Hawk’s front office including Quennville, who offered praise such as “I didn’t mind Vinny” which is as flowery as he gets for rookies.

Ryan Hartman – Former 1st round pick plays a physical game and wins the most likely to resemble Andrew Shaw award among the Hawks young players. Hartman antagonizes opponents and has the ability to draw their attention away from his team’s most skilled players and onto himself. While that is a valuable skill, too often last year Hartman took bad timed, ill-advised penalties which NHL teams do not condone. Certainly not a team like the Hawks, who are annually among the league’s least penalized teams. However, if Hartman can more wisely use his physical game, there is room for a winger with size and the willingness to mix things up with the departure of Shaw, Ladd, and Weise in the offseason.

Tanner Kero – A former collegiate free agent, Kero played a hefty 17 games for the Blackhawks in his rookie year, as a defensive center with smarts and speed, while Marcus Kruger was injured. A good penalty killer, Kero started the year as an effective goal scorer with Rockford prior to being recalled. However, his scoring touch dried up after that, and whatever mark he makes in the NHL seems to be that of a role player and defensive specialist.

Mark McNeil – Another former first round pick, McNeil wisely signed a cheap $600k one year deal as an RFA this offseason. Last year Rockford head coach Ted Dent declared that McNeil was an “NHL player for sure” and only lacked an opportunity. However, the word going around has been the Blackhawks brass does not like McNeil for one reason or another. A solid defensive player with decent wheels and NHL size, McNeil’s scoring touch has never come along as they hoped and he does not play a physical game despite having the body to do so, in a similar vein to the recently departed Bryan Bickell. With the ability to play center or wing, and a good record on faceoffs, McNeil offers versatility that many NHL clubs, especially the Blackhawks, desire out of players that are not superstars.

Dennis Rasmussen – The Swedish center that earned the most playing time while Marcus Kruger missed most of last season, “Moose” offers good size, intelligence, but not great wheels and very limited offensive potential. His peripheral metrics were actually not bad for being used in a 4th line role last season. Where Marcus Kruger clearly slots as the 3rd best center on this team, Rasmussen will likely battle with Kero, Lundburg and McNeil for the 4th line center role.

Kyle Baun – The grandson of Toronto Maple Leaf legend Bob Baun, Kyle spent most of last season injured. He impressed late the season before playing a few games for the Hawks after signing as a college free agent. Unfortunately, in the games he did play in last year in the AHL, Baun showed almost no offensive potential. He moves well for a winger with his size and competes hard for pucks, a characteristic in line with how Brandon Saad plays. However, his game is not nearly as complete or as skilled as Saad’s, nor does he have elite speed.

Martin Lundburg – Signed as a free agent out of Sweden this offseason, Lundburg is the kind of rabid defensive penalty killer that will dive face first in front of a shot. He is capable of filling a pure defensive role at center and will challenge younger Hawk prospects with higher offensive upsides for playing time this season in Chicago and possibly Rockford. In his favor is that he already has pro experience from Sweden’s highest elite league.

The Hawks need 4 players from this list to make the NHL team. Keep in mind they may still sign an NHL vet or two to PTO’s to come to training camp and try and make the team. Tomas Fleishmann is still out there, for example. My list of guys most likely to make the team, in order:

1. Vince Hinostroza – Showed the type of offensive game and speed the Hawks need last year in his first pro season in the AHL. Played center and wing so has versatility.

2. Tyler Motte – Motte’s complete defensive game, and willingness to go to the net, will win over the Hawk’s coaches despite his lack of pro experience. Looks good to fill a lower line role.

3. Nick Schmaltz – He would be best suited to play at least half a season in Rockford to start his pro career and round out his defensive game. The problem is with this thin of a roster and a lack of depth in skill guys, I am not sure the Hawks will have the luxury of starting him in Rockford where he belongs. His defensive showing in preseason games will be what makes or breaks him making the team out of camp. With most of the top guys at the World Cup, he will get an extended look.

4. Tanner Kero – Kero’s defensive game and speed will get him serious consideration as the 4th line center out of camp. If he can add anything to his game offensively at the NHL level, it would really strengthen his case. Quennville acknowledged the role of speed in the Stanley Cup Final results this year in the offseason, and one of the elements some of these young guys like Kero can give him is more speed.

5. Ryan Hartman – After moving Brian Bickell, Andrew Shaw, and losing Andrew Ladd and Dale Weise this offseason, if there ever was a year for Ryan Hartman to make the team, this is it. But nothing in his game last year in the AHL showed he was ready mentally to be an NHL pest. And the Hawks don’t employ players that play like morons. That is not to say Hartman can’t learn some discipline and alter his game, but he will have to if he is to make the team. They certainly can use his size and physical game this year, two things they sorely lack.

6. Dennis Rasmussen – Was effective in a 4th line role last season after Marcus Kruger went down, although he normally played extremely limited and sheltered minutes. With a big frame, Moose brings size the Hawks lack, even if he does not play an overly aggressive game.

7. Mark McNeil – There is no realy reason for McNeil not to make the team this season, from his cheap cap hit to his pro sized body to his versatility at wing or center. But he likely won’t, as some of the Hawks brass do not think very highly of him. It will take a very good showing in camp and preseason for McNeil to get a shot. For example, last season when everyone and their brother from Rockford got a taste of the show, McNeil only got in for one game, the game in Carolina before a week long break, and it was one of the Hawks most dead performances of the entire season.

8. Martin Lundburg – It is hard to assess Lundburg’s chances, but he could beat out Kero and Rasmussen for the 4th line spot if his gritty game is effective. He did not score much in the Swedish league, so his upside offensively in the NHL is, shall we say, small.

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