The Blackhawks have been a daunting proposition for the rest of the division for nine years now, led by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Over the seven 82-game seasons beginning with 2009-10 (excluding the 2013 season), the Hawks have posted 100 points six times.
However, the salary cap has forced every organization to evolve quickly. From the 2009-10 season to today, the only players on the roster every night have been Toews, Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Three forwards, three defensemen. Everything other spot on the roster has turned over, in many cases more than twice.
Without a high draft pick – the Hawks haven’t picked better than 18th since 2008 – Chicago’s front office has needed to draft well and develop players to continually replace veterans leaving via free agency or trade – all while moving prospects and picks to sustain the current level of excellence at the NHL level.
This season, there were early growing pains for the Blackhawks as coach Joel Quenneville was tasked with moving a significant number of young players into the lineup. But now that we’re in the home stretch of the 2016-17 season, it has become clear that the talent evaluation in Chicago continues to be among the best in the league.
And the rest of the Central Division has once again been put on notice that, even with expensive veteran players, the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t going anywhere.
Indeed, even with Calder Trophy candidate Patrik Laine having an incredible season in Winnipeg, the Blackhawks have received the most production from rookies in the Central Division. Here’s the season-to-date production from rookie classes across the Central (entering Wednesday night’s games):
*Note: Laine has 60 of Winnipeg’s 87 points by himself.
The Blackhawks have seen seven rookies put a point on the board this season, a number matched only by Dallas in the division.
In the Central, only four players in the division not-named-Laine have reached 20 points on the year. Two of them – Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz – are Blackhawks.
Winnipeg and Dallas have two rookies who have even reached double-digit point totals this season. Nashville and Colorado have only one. St. Louis and Minnesota don’t have a double-digit point producing rookie yet. Chicago has four (Hartman, Schmaltz, Tanner Kero and Vinnie Hinostroza). And John Hayden, with three points in four games, might become a fifth.
Looking forward, the Blackhawks will have these rookies around for at least a couple years and have more talented scoring coming in talented prospects like Alex DeBrincat.
The point: good luck, Central Division. The best in the West have reloaded and have a future as bright as any in the division.