VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Entering this season’s training camp, Matthew Highmore was a professional hockey player who had not played much hockey in a while.
“I had only played four games in nine months, 10 months,” he said Tuesday. “So I didn’t really have much of a measuring stick, and I didn’t think I was quite where I wanted to be.”
Six months later, Highmore has played a lot of hockey — and most of it at the NHL level.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old wing has appeared in 23 games for the Hawks since his late November recall, bringing energy, grit and some deceptive speed to the fourth line.
Although he has tallied just one goal and two assists in those 23 games, he has become a valuable player in coach Jeremy Colliton’s eyes — so much so that, after Highmore was scratched for three consecutive games out of the bye week, Colliton scratched Alex Nylander in Winnipeg to get Highmore back into the lineup, then kept Highmore in while benching Dylan Strome in Edmonton.
“He’s been really good,” Colliton said Wednesday. “He’s another guy we watched the shifts with today and he played real well, and that’s great for our team. Competition and young players improving and pushing from underneath, so I expect him to continue to get better as he gets more and more comfortable with the league.”
Although Highmore was scratched Wednesday against the Canucks, there’s good evidence that having Highmore around makes the Hawks better: they’ve won 13 of the 23 games in which he has played, versus only 12 of the 33 he hasn’t (entering Wednesday).
“When I came here at the start of December, the team was really starting to find their groove,” he said. “So just to be a part of that has been exciting. I’ve been playing good hockey [but] I don’t think necessarily it’s been any of the reason.”
Highmore missed the vast majority of last season with a right shoulder injury, playing only nine games with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in October 2018 and four in April 2019 on the two ends of his lengthy recovery.
After his aforementioned time in Hawks training camp, he returned to Rockford fully healthy and put up 12 points in 21 games, prompting his promotion.
Two and a half months later, he has become an NHL regular.
“I’m getting better,” he said. “It’s a bit of an adjustment, and I feel like I have made that adjustment as of now.
‘‘I’m starting to build on my game more and more and it’s certainly coming around. It’s been fun being a part of this. I hope
I can continue to help any way
He added that he’s hoping to develop his patience and creativity in the offensive zone so that he can chip in more scoring-wise.
But he now has plenty of leash and time to do so.
Kubalik on top power play
Dominik Kubalik slotted into the Hawks’ top power play this week, a long-awaited move that Colliton had resisted because of handedness concerns.
Kubalik, as a left-handed shot, only naturally fits on the right side of the formation, blasting one-timers. Putting the Czech rookie there, however, required displacing Patrick Kane from his usual spot and shifting him to the left faceoff circle.
Colliton said Wednesday that he now doesn’t think that’s a “bad thing,” though.