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John Hayden gets a shot on the top line in his NHL debut

OTTAWA — Any rookie is going to be a little intimidated the first time he steps on the ice as an NHL player. And Blackhawks rookie John Hayden felt a little of that when he took the ice during Tuesday’s morning skate in Montreal, and again at Wednesday’s practice in Ottawa. Everyone else knows all the drills. Everyone else is loose and having fun. Everyone else is established in the NHL.

“It’s a little intimidating at first,” Hayden admitted.

But Hayden’s not a typical rookie. He’s not some 19-year-old kid fresh out of juniors; he’s a 22-year-old man who just completed four years at Yale. He’s not entirely unfamiliar with the Hawks; he’s been to four prospect camps since being drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft. And he’s not without friends in the dressing room; he’s known Nick Schmaltz for a few years, and has known Ryan Hartman since they were teammates together on the U.S. National Development Team in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

So while he’s new, he’s not overwhelmed.

Joel Quenneville is putting rookie John Hayden on Jonathan Toews' line in his NHL debut. (Getty Images)

“It’s part of the reason why I stayed four years at Yale,” he said. “I was trying to understand the big picture, and work on my overall development. I want to stay here for as long as possible, and I wanted to make sure I was ready.”

With 13 games left in the regular season, Hayden’s window to prove he deserves a spot in the postseason lineup is small. But Joel Quenneville gave him quite an opportunity right away, slotting Hayden alongside Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik in his NHL debut Thursday night against the Senators.

Quenneville said that wasn’t “originally the forecast,” but Artem Anisimov’s injury opened up a spot on the top six, and Hayden gets the first crack at it. Assistant coaches Mike Kitchen and Kevin Dineen have put Hayden through his paces on the ice and in the video room to prepare him. Quenneville is most intrigued by Hayden’s size and physical play, but as with every young player, his concern is how he plays without the puck, and in the defensive end.

“I liked his practice,” Quenneville said. “Not seeing him for a while, [it’s good to] see him add more pace to his game. He looks like he can add an element to our team. Over the last day or so, we’ve been going over our systems, letting him be aware of how we play and what things to look for. Play to your strengths. He’s a direct player and we don’t want him to change that too much.”

Hayden led the Hawks out for warmups before the game, and the team had him do a lap by himself before they joined him.

Stronger apart
Quenneville stuck with the same defensive pairings he went to in Montreal, keeping Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson apart with Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, respectively.

“I thought our ‘D’ was fine last game,” he said. “I thought we had real balance in ice time. Their play was fine across the board. There’s some familiarity with the pairs, as well, which was good. But I like the balance that they had. They’ve got a little offense with a little defense in all the pairs.”

Roster report
Andrew Desjardins was back in the lineup, on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo has been working his way back into the lineup with his energetic play. He has been in the lineup three straight games, and six of the last seven, after playing just once in a 15-game span.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus