Welcome to Chicago, Spencer Abbott. Here’s your Blackhawks workout shirt, your official team hoodie, your newly stitched jersey, and your two Hall of Fame linemates.
Good luck out there.
“It’s a little bit nerve-wracking,” Abbott said Wednesday afternoon after skating alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa in his first practice since being recalled from Rockford. “Obviously, [they are] two of the best players in the world. It’s going to be intimidating.”
This is what it’s come to for the sputtering Hawks, who have lost five of six and have scored just one goal in three of their last five games. In their search for offense, the Hawks are turning to a player with 515 goals in 1,270 career games (Hossa) and a 28-year-old rookie who has played in just one NHL game, when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
But while Abbott’s the very definition of a journeyman minor-leaguer — three years with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and two half-seasons with the IceHogs sandwiched around a stint in Sweden — he’s an intriguing one. Abbott has produced at every level. He had 42 goals and 41 assists in 48 games in his final junior season in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. He had 21 goals and 41 assists in 39 games in his senior season at the University of Maine. And last spring, he had an head-turning 12 goals in 19 games with the IceHogs.
Even in training camp this season, he had two goals in the intrasquad scrimmage at the United Center and had an assist in his lone preseason outing in Detroit. If he weren’t 28 — ancient in prospect years — he probably would have earned the kind of long look the rest of the Hawks rookies have this season.
“I like what I see from him,” said Hossa, who will return to the lineup Thursday after missing five games with an upper-body injury. “Seems like he’s a smart player and he tries to set up guys, so that’s not a bad thing to have a guy like that. You can say they’re throwing him in the water and now we have to swim. On the other hand, we’re just going to try to help him. [From] what I heard, he’s got a good hockey IQ, and I like to play with players like that. Hopefully we can click right away and keep it simple, don’t try to complicate things too much.”
That’s Abbott’s plan. Of course, it’s easy to say you’re going to play your game and not try to force pass after pass to the two superstars to your right. As so many other Hawks have learned over the past year and a half — from Viktor Tikhonov and Ryan Garbutt to Teuvo Teravainen and Nick Schmaltz — it can be difficult in practice.
Especially for a guy like Abbott, who admitted he had doubts he’d ever play in the NHL again after his one game with the Maple Leafs in October of 2013. Even Abbott said he was surprised by the call-up on Tuesday, saying, “It kind of came out of nowhere.”
“I have to stay within myself and play my game,” he said. “I can’t try to do too much. You have a tendency to look for them when you get the puck, and get rid of the puck and give it to them as much as you can. I’m going to try my best not to play like that. Just try to play my game, and hopefully things work out.”
Joel Quenneville, who has tossed a handful of rookies into the deep end with Toews, said Abbott will dictate how long a leash he gets by how well he plays
“They’re obviously both very, very high-end guys,” Abbott said. “It’s a privilege to be out there on the same line as them. I’ll do what I can to keep up.”