Ryan Carpenter’s rock-solid start showing why Blackhawks gave him 3-year contract

Carpenter’s old Vegas team visited just seven games into his Chicago tenure, but he’s already locked down a permanent role on this Blackhawks team.

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Ryan Carpenter has quickly found his niche on the Blackhawks.

Ryan Carpenter has quickly found his niche on the Blackhawks.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When Ryan Carpenter signed with the Blackhawks minutes after free agency opened on July 1, his $1 million cap hit seemed reasonable for a depth forward. His three-year term, however, raised some eyebrows.

And yet just seven regular-season games into his Chicago tenure, Carpenter is already displaying why the Hawks committed to him as the long-term fourth-line center.

“Coming in before camp, I knew what they expected [of me],” Carpenter said. “If I’m scoring or not, as long as I’m doing the right things and playing hard and winning draws and being good on the PK and those little things, those are the things that help the team win.”

The 28-year-old center only had to wait until Tuesday for an up-close-and-personal contrast between his situation last season — when he was an in-flux player in Vegas’ stacked lineup and ultimately scratched for all seven playoff games — and this season.

Jeremy Colliton said the Hawks tried to take advantage of Carpenter’s familiarity with the Golden Knights’ system. “It’s an opportunity to ask a couple questions,” the coach said. And Carpenter admitted the matchup was weird at first, although “once you start playing, you just don’t really think about it.”

But Carpenter’s usefulness has extended far beyond providing a scouting report on one Western Conference contender.

Entering Tuesday, he was second-best on the Hawks in scoring chances allowed per 60 minutes (22.4), led the team in shorthanded ice time, and ranked eighth in the entire NHL in faceoff win percentage (63.3 percent). Plus, he’d tallied an assist in three of his last four games.

With Alex Nylander and Drake Caggiula as linemates, Carpenter has especially thrived.

His ability to play sound defense, win board battles and get the puck out of the danger zone can lead to counter-attacks the other direction when Nylander and Caggiula are by his side, something that aging grinder Zack Smith (scratched for the second straight game Tuesday) can’t offer quite as much.

And Carpenter’s conservative dependability can rub off on Nylander and Caggiula, too, a positive side effect that certainly won’t bother the coaching staff.

“He’s a very responsible player,” Colliton said. “[He] does a great job in the D-zone down low, and doesn’t seem to ever make a bad read.”

“It’s a big part of the reason why that line’s having so much success, because they’re taking care of their own end first and then they have possession. Frees up Nylander, for example — he’s been really good on that line, [because] good defensive plays are contagious.”

In regards to his tremendous faceoff success, Carpenter credits the Hawks’ lack of other right-handed centers — thus giving him more draw opportunities on his strong right side — and the NHL’s most notable new rule change.

“Especially on the penalty kill, you’re always starting in the D-zone, so those are hard draws,” he said. “And now that they get to pick whatever side [the faceoff is on], if they have good lefties on their team — and most teams usually have good lefty centermen on their power play — then usually it’s on that strong side for me.”

Filling that previously gaping hole on the PK is just one of many areas where Carpenter, despite his fourth-liner status, has made a substantial impact on this Hawks roster.

And he’s loving it, because when entering free agency this past summer, a situation like this was exactly what he hoped for.

“I’ve never signed a three-year deal, so it’s definitely nice,” he said. “I just wanted to have an organization commit to me.”

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