As deadline approaches, Q gaining confidence in Hartman & Co.

The aura of playing for the Blackhawks can be a little intimidating for a rookie trying to fit in, let alone playing for coach Joel Quenneville.

“I grew up around here, so I definitely know the names in this locker room,” said rookie forward Ryan Hartman, the West Dundee native who made his NHL debut with the Hawks in 2015. “Maybe the first year you’re in the system you feel like you don’t want to mess up. And then you’re here for a whole year and you’re around the guys . . . it’s a very comfortable feeling. We’ve been here all year. It’s just hockey.”

The 22-year-old Hartman’s comfort level is obvious with every shift these days. He’s skating aggressively and confidently — his 116 shots on goal are fifth on the team — and making an impact even when he’s not getting scoring opportunities, like when he laid out to poke the puck from the Stars’ Jamie Benn to save a game-tying goal in the final minutes of a 5-3 victory on Feb. 4 in Dallas.

Hartman has 13 goals and 23 points in 52 games. His plus-9 rating is fourth among NHL rookies. His rookie numbers are close to Bryan Bickell after 52 games of his rookie season in 2010-11 (13 goals, 29 points, plus-9).

Blackhawks rookies Ryan Hartman (right) and Nick Schmaltz (left, battling Flames goalie Brian Elliott in a 3-2 loss in November) have been gaining confidence with more experience this season. Hartman is tied for sixth among NHL rookies with 13 goals. Hartman and Tanner Kero are tied for fourth among rookies with a plus-9 rating. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

“[Hartman] gives you some depth up front, some predictability now,” Quenneville said at the end of the Hawks’ 5-1 road trip.
“Offensively he knows where the net is and I think he’s getting better defensively — that’s the area where he gets more predictable, [it’s] only going to complement his offense.

“He’s always around the puck and brings physicality to our game. It’s nice see the finished product.”

While the Hawks are positioning themselves to make a move at the trade deadline, the emergence of players such as Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero is giving Quenneville confidence he has enough to win with — even if general manager Stan Bowman does not make a move at the deadline.

“Our young guys are showing some progressions in their games — adding balance to our team,” Quenneville said. We have depth. We have experience. We’re strong in all areas, all positions.

“Stan and the organization is always looking to improve. But we still think that no matter who goes in certain areas . . . we have a lot of options moving people around on a need basis.”

Asked specifically if he was more comfortable with the younger players on this team than on past teams, Quenneville was emphatic. “I have no problem with that at all,” he said. “That can help us.”

The rookie class, along with the development of players like Kero, defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dennis Rasmussen, is giving Bowman at least a semblance of the “growth from within” he was counting on to keep the Hawks in contention as the salary-cap tightens its grip.

Among players drafted since the 2009-10 season, Hartman (60 games), Hinostroza (53), Schmaltz (38) and Tyler Motte (33) are in the top eight in games played. While it remains to be seen if there is a Brandon Saad or Andrew Shaw in the group, they have at least gone a long way towards rebuilding a solid supporting cast that becomes more and more crucial to the Hawks’ success as the core matures.

“Just that enthusiasm,” Quenne-ville said, when asked how the younger players can help. “Guys that bring the energy over the course of the year, they’re improving. The whole league’s like that right now, with a lot of young guys playing, and their roles are probably going to be the same roles that they had over the course of the season. That’s important ice time in big situations. It’ll be a challenge for them as well.”

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@MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com


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