Cole Guttman ready for Blackhawks training camp after recovering from shoulder surgery

Before the surgery in March, Guttman’s separation speed, faceoff ability and productivity impressed the Hawks at the AHL and NHL levels. He’ll be particularly interesting to watch in camp starting Sept. 21.

SHARE Cole Guttman ready for Blackhawks training camp after recovering from shoulder surgery
Cole Guttman underwent shoulder surgery in March, cutting his first pro season short.

Cole Guttman underwent shoulder surgery in March, cutting his first pro season short.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Cole Guttman took some contact in the Blackhawks’ Feb. 25 game against the Sharks and felt a familiar feeling. His right shoulder injury had been re-aggravated.

“It wasn’t even a bad hit,” Guttman recalled. “It was just awkward. And then I felt it and knew it happened again.”

That incident marked the third time last season — his first as a pro — his right shoulder had been injured, with the first two occurring last November and December while playing for Rockford in the AHL. It proved to be the final nail in Guttman’s eventual decision to shut himself down to undergo surgery in mid-March.

Nearly six months later, the 24-year-old forward has now fully recovered and will be ready for Hawks training camp starting Sept. 21.

“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “It’s going to be nice not having to go day-to-day worrying about it coming out again and having to play through the pain. So [surgery] was definitely worth it. It was a little bit of a setback at the start, but it’ll help me be even better this year, just playing 100% healthy.”

Guttman went through the rehab process this offseason at home in the Los Angeles area. Fortunately, his lower body was unaffected, so he was able to maintain his conditioning and leg strength without much difficulty.

He was finally cleared to begin skating again in early July — having resumed light upper-body workouts shortly before then — and gradually added in shooting and stickhandling drills over the ensuing weeks.

“It was difficult [at the] start, not being able to do much and being off the ice for that long, but each month I felt like I would be able to do something new,” he said. “It was a long summer, so I had to take my time with it.”

Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman shoots the puck.

Guttman produced 30 points in 39 AHL games and six points in 14 NHL games last season.

AP Photo/John Hefti

Guttman’s relatively smooth, speedy recovery is exciting news for the Hawks, who loved what they saw from him last season.

He emerged out of the relative blue — the former Lightning sixth-round pick had previously spent four years at the University of Denver — to become one of the most productive rookies in the AHL, tallying 30 points in 39 games.

He was then called up by the Hawks on Feb. 14, made his NHL debut the next night, scored his first NHL goal on a beautiful end-to-end rush Feb. 19 against the Maple Leafs and finished with six points (including four goals) in 14 NHL appearances.

He was also impressive in the faceoff dot, where players often take the longest to adjust to the NHL. He became one of only seven rookies league-wide over the past five years to take more than 150 draws and win more than 52% of them.

“At the NHL level, there’s obviously a lot of good centers, so [I was] just figuring out tips and tricks on ways to beat them,” he said. “I want to have a complete game and be used in any situation, and I feel like being good at faceoffs is important for that.”

At Guttman’s size (5-9, 167 pounds), Hawks coach Luke Richardson was worried he wouldn’t be able to get enough separation from NHL opponents to make plays consistently. But those worries were quickly eased.

“We knew he was a smart hockey player,” Richardson said in March. “The question for us [was]...did he have separation speed? And he has shown that. He’s not afraid to hold on to pucks in tight areas and make strong plays.”

Incidentally, Guttman’s second-biggest objective this summer — aside from the shoulder rehab — has been further improving his separation ability.

He regularly worked on drills involving cutting back against his momentum and then exploding out of that cut-back. It’s all about footwork, he said, and he hopes to use those footwork skills on offensive-zone entries in particular.

“Having that extra explosive step to go around guys is really important,” he said. “I was going in the right direction last year, and off-ice in the gym this year, there’s workouts I can do to help increase my explosiveness and deception. Once I started skating again, that was a focus: entering the zone with some deception, and then having the ability to show one way and explode out the other way.”

For these reasons, Guttman should be one of the most interesting Hawks to watch during camp and preseason action.

On one hand, he possesses the potential to take yet another bigger-than-expected step forward in his second pro season and become a legitimate top-nine impact forward.

On the other hand, it’s far from guaranteed he even makes the Hawks’ opening-day roster, because the competition for forward spots has increased dramatically since last winter. With 11 forwards penned down as virtual locks, the next six guys — Guttman, Colin Blackwell, Boris Katchouk, MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson and Joey Anderson — will likely be fighting for only two or three spots.

That’s a reality not lost on Guttman, but he’s unfazed nonetheless.

“I’m really excited to get to camp,” he said. “I want to go out there and show my best. My goal is to make the team and make an impact. I want to show I can play all sides of the ice, whatever it takes.”

Connor and Connor

New Hawks cornerstone Connor Bedard attended Biosteel NHL Camp this week alongside established stars like Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl, John Tavares, Jack Eichel, Charlie McAvoy and — most notably — Connor McDavid.

A video of the two Connors working out together circulated on social media, and Bedard said the Oilers superstar and five-time Art Ross Trophy winner gave him “lots of good advice.”

Then Bedard was asked whether he considers McDavid’s otherworldly production — 153 points in 82 games last season — a realistic future goal for himself, and he gave an interesting answer.

“You never want to say, ‘Oh, I can’t do this,’” Bedard said. “I don’t think that mindset is that great. But I’m not him. I’m my own person and my own player. He’s the pinnacle right now. You’re like, ‘This guy is the best...and how can I get closer to him?’ That’s such a great thing in sport: you’re always competing against guys.

“For me to get to spend some time with him, be on the ice with him and try to compete with him [is great]. He’s obviously unbelievable, and you can barely talk about his stats because they’re so ridiculous. But I’m trying to be my own player and be the best I can be.”

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