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Nick Schmaltz eager to make most of opportunity on Toews line

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Playing with Jonathan Toews is not an automatic ticket to success.

“It’s a great challenge and a great opportunity,” coach Joel Quenneville said.

Rookie Nick Schmaltz is the latest to get the chance, and the 2014 first-round draft pick (20th overall) is determined to make the most of it.

Schmaltz scored a key goal off a classic Toews feed in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 overtime victory against the Wild on Wednesday  and had an assist Friday against the Jets to give him three goals and five points in 11 games since returning from Rockford on
Jan. 14. Schmaltz had one goal and four points in 26 games before being sent down on Dec. 4.

Blackhawks forward Nick Schmaltz (8) celebrates with teammate Duncan Keith (2) after Schmaltz assisted on Keith's goal that gave the Hawks a 3-1 lead in the third period in their 5-2 victory over the Jets. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

“One of the best organizations and you get a chance to play with Jonathan Toews — one of the best centers in the game — you have to take advantage of it,” said Schmaltz, who will turn 21 on Feb. 23.

Schmaltz started his fourth consecutive game on Toews’ line with Richard Panik against the Jets.

“I’ve watched him for many years,” Schmaltz said. “He went to North Dakota and I went to North Dakota, so we kind of had that connection right away. You just appreciate how hard he works on the ice, off the ice. How well he takes care of himself; what a great team guy he is. It’s really special to be on the same team and be able to play on a line with him.”

The challenge for Schmaltz is the same as for any young player under Quenneville — being as responsible defensively as he is gifted offensively.

“Offensively, it’s natural for him,” Quenneville said. “He seems to sustain pucks and he puts it in good areas. He’s a threat off the rush. He gets to the net the last game and gets rewarded.

“Defensively, finding that consistency will make him a better player game-in, game-out. Working with Jonny should help him as well.”

Resurgent captain

Maybe it was just the import of a big game, but Toews’ energy level was noticeably amped up against the Wild.

“I don’t know. I’m just moving my feet,” the Hawks’ captain said. “This is something I’ve been trying to tell myself — to keep my feet moving and protect the puck . . . at least the way I used to play a little bit heavier down low and not giving pucks up too much in the corners. I think eventually if you do that, plays develop.”

Kane passes Amonte

Patrick Kane’s first-period goal — a one-timer from the right circle off a feed from Artemi Panarin — was the 269th of his NHL career, breaking a tie with Tony Amonte (269) for sixth on the Hawks all-time goal list. Dennis Hull is fifth with 298 goals.

Road trip finale

Scott Darling is expected to start in goal when the Hawks conclude their six-game road trip against the Oilers on Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

After that, the Hawks will have a bye week until facing the Oilers at the United Center on Feb. 18.

“We’ve played a ton of hockey in December and January and leading up to this break,” Toews said, “so I think it’s something we’ll definitely take advantage of.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com