VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The day Brandon Mashinter was called up to the Blackhawks, he lined up in the wrong spot during line rushes, forcing the team to stop in its tracks, regroup, and start over again. It’s the kind of thing that would be mortifying for some kid up in the NHL for the first time.
For Mashinter, who waited nearly two years for another crack at the NHL, it might have felt even worse. At 27 years old, Mashinter is the same age as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov. Now that he’s back in the NHL, every move he makes feels like an audition.
“Not only games, but practices, too,” Mashinter said. “I feel like I’m on the radar all the time. So I’ve just got to do my thing, work as hard as I can, and try to limit any mistakes.”
So far, so good. Mashinter entered Saturday’s game at Vancouver without a point in five games, but without a problem, either. He played nine minutes Friday night in Calgary, the most of his brief stint with the Hawks. Known primarily as an enforcer, he’s been getting more offensive in recent seasons. In 271 career AHL games, he has 64 goals, including 31 over the last two years, and was named the Rockford IceHogs’ captain this year.
“He’s such a strong forward — really good in the corners and works hard down low and around the net,” said Tanner Kero, who played with Mashinter in Rockford earlier this season and is now his center with the Hawks. “So you know when you have the puck deep, he’s going to go to work and get the pucks to the net.”
Mashinter helped create the Hawks’ best scoring chance against the Flames, slipping a puck to Marcus Kruger through the crease and missing out on his first career NHL point (he has played 28 games with the Sharks, Rangers and Hawks) thanks only to a spectacular backhanded swat by Calgary goaltender Karri Ramo.
“My first time up, it took me a little bit to get comfortable, and each day I’m getting more and more comfortable,” Mashinter said. “I think it’s kind of showing in my play, too, a little bit. Hopefully I just continue getting stronger.”
Mashinter has appeared in the fewest NHL games among the current Hawks, but there are nine players on the active roster who are younger than him. He said it feels “weird” to be older than so many guys in an NHL dressing room, and joked “it’s a young man’s game now.” But he’s confident his best hockey is ahead of him.
“I still see myself as a younger guy,” he said. “I’m still young in this league. And I’ve always been kind of a late bloomer. If you look at my junior career, I didn’t blossom until my last year, really. And I think every year in pro hockey, I’ve gotten stronger — skating wise and scoring wise. In my opinion, I’m a late bloomer. I just have to keep working for it.”