For Blackhawks’ prospects, it all boils down to patience
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter July 11, 2014 11:48PM
Nick Schmaltz, the Hawks’ first-round draft pick this year, will need to be patient and wait his turn behind a slew of veterans. | Julian Finney/Getty Images
Updated: August 14, 2014 6:38AM
Funny thing about being a Blackhawks prospect: The organization has become renowned for developing prospects and turning them into NHL players. It’s a big reason why undrafted college standouts such as Drew LeBlanc, Matt Carey and Trevor Van Riemsdyk have signed with the Hawks in recent seasons.
But the Hawks also have one of the most loaded rosters in the league, along with a coach in Joel Quenneville with a clear preference for veteran players. It’s a big reason why so many players spend so much time in the minor leagues, like Ben Smith, or become bartering chips, like Brandon Pirri.
So of the 62 players who will descend on Johnny’s IceHouse West on Sunday for the Hawks’ weeklong prospect camp, there’s a realistic chance that not a single one will be on the opening-day roster. But by season’s end — because of injuries, trades or veteran struggles — several likely will get their chance. It’s up to them now to position themselves as next in line, then up to them later to make the most of whatever chance they get.
‘‘Everyone’s a young player at some point, and they go through their growing pains,’’ Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said. ‘‘We’ve seen it, though, with [Andrew] Shaw and [Brandon] Saad — they’ve certainly pushed through from being rookies and inexperienced players to being guys the coaches are comfortable with and can rely on. It’s a progression. It takes time. We’re fortunate we don’t have to rush guys into spots where they may not be prepared. But every year, we’ve seen one or two young guys come in.”
This past year, it was Smith. Before that, it was Saad. Before that, Shaw. And Nick Leddy. And Marcus Kruger. All were once prospects. All became veterans. The key for the guys knocking on the door now (such as center Teuvo Teravainen, defensemen Stephen Johns and Adam Clendening and winger Mark McNeill) and for the guys still possibly years away from making the jump (such as this year’s first-round pick, Nick Schmaltz, and last year’s first-round pick, Ryan Hartman) is patience. All will be at camp this week hoping to make an impression that lasts however long it needs to last.
For some teams, the kids get thrown right into the fire. It rarely happens that way in Chicago these days, with the uncommonly gifted, savvy and physically mature Saad — a 2011 second-rounder — the exception.
“That’s the one thing for us — you get a guy who spent a couple years developing, they have confidence and they’re ready for that next challenge,” Bowman said. “It works better that way than taking a kid who’s played 15 games in the AHL, put him in the NHL, and if they don’t have success right away, they start to question themselves, change their game and may never get it back. We don’t want to go that route.’’
Quenneville always has been wary of inexperienced players but has shown a willingness to play the kids if they force his hand — Shaw and Saad being the best examples. The recently re-signed Jeremy Morin — a 23-year-old who has seen brief stints in Chicago for four seasons running — is the obvious choice to be the next roster regular.
But the talented teen Teravainen will get a long look. And the 6-4, 220-pound Notre Dame graduate Johns, 22, and the offensive-minded Clendening, 21, have a real chance to crack the opening-day lineup — if they can wow Quenneville and the coaching staff in prospects camp, then again in training camp in September.
‘‘Everybody gets an opportunity,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Eventually they get their turn. Organizationally, we like the fact you start in the minors, you get to learn, you get to grow. When you get that opportunity, I don’t mind playing young guys, and I don’t mind having young guys around.’’