In spite of so many fans claiming the Blackhawks’ front office has failed because of disappointing statistical production from some of the veteran free agents that have been brought in with short-term deals, the playoff-bound Hawks wouldn’t be leaving their golf clubs in storage for a few extra weeks if not for the exceptional performances from their rookie class.
When the regular season ends, the Blackhawks will have more than 200 games played by rookies this season, and that number won’t include Nick Leddy (who turned 21 in late March). Four of the 18 skaters that dressed for Saturday night’s victory haven’t celebrated their 22nd birthday yet.
Through Saturday night’s games, only 16 rookies in the NHL have passed 20 points this season. Two of them are Blackhawks: Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger. What’s more, only three of those 16 players have participated in fewer than 60 games this season: Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (50 points in 58 games), Buffalo’s Luke Adam (20 points in 52 games), and Shaw (21 points in 34 games).
Kruger’s 33 blocked shots rank seventh among rookie forwards this season, while Shaw’s 77 hits are tied for for 13th among rookie forwards. Kruger also continues to rank among the rookie leaders in total faceoffs as well (currently fourth), and he remains one of only four rookies that is averaging more than one minutes per game on both the power play and penalty kill.
Amazingly, Kruger and Shaw share something in common beyond being among the top rookies this year: they were both fifth round draft picks.
Among the teams battling for position in the Western Conference playoffs picture, only Nashville has more games played by rookies this year than the Hawks. But considering the games missed by crucial members of the Hawks’ lineup, including Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, no team in the West has needed crucial performances from rookies the way the Hawks have… and Chicago’s kids have come through in the clutch.
The Blackhawks 10-2-2 record was their best March since 1991, when they won the Norris Division with an identical record. They did that without their captain, but it was the young players stepping up that have made the difference.