Ryan Hartman at center gives Joel Quenneville intriguing options
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It remains to be seen if coach Joel Quenneville has struck gold with right winger Ryan Hartman centering the No. 2 line with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane.
Quenneville was intrigued enough to stick with it against the Stars on Thursday night, with an eye on keeping Hartman at center on a bottom-six line when Artem Anisimov returns from a leg injury.
Hartman was paired with Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa on the third line to start Tuesday night’s game against the Canucks. He then skated with Panarin and Kane in the third period and scored the tying goal with 1:03 left before the Hawks lost in overtime. Physically, the gritty Hartman is a better complement to Panarin and Kane than rookie Nick Schmaltz, who initially replaced Anisimov on the second line.
“I liked [Hartman] there and the way he plays with those two guys — you can have a net presence and disruption around the net [with] those guys in that area,” Quenneville said. “It gives us some options of using him in the middle in other spots as well. For [one] period there I thought he did a real nice job. He looked all right in practice [prior to Thursday night’s game]. It’s one more option, which we like.”
When Anisimov returns, the Hawks could have Jonathan Toews, Anisimov, Hartman and Kruger at center, theoretically giving Quenneville the strength down the middle he’s looking for in the playoffs. But Hartman still has to prove he can be effective at center. And John Hayden or Schmaltz have to continue to produce to free up Hartman to play center.
Hartman was unfazed by the challenge of transitioning to center. He saw some time playing the position at Rockford and “a decent amount” in juniors.
“I don’t think it’s too difficult,” he said. “It is a different position, but the only main difference is defensive zone — you’re just playing a little lower and you’re reading off our defenseman. It’s not a brand-new thing for me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Kero gets 2-year deal
The Hawks agreed to terms with rookie forward Tanner Kero on a two-year contract.
Kero, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan Tech in 2015, has five goals and 12 points with a plus-12 differential in 38 games prior to Thursday night’s game against the Stars. He had one goal and three points, with a minus-2 differential in 17 games last season.
Former Hawks star Patrick Sharp is having the most challenging season of his NHL career. He’s missed 26 games because of two concussions and has been playing through a hip injury that will require surgery in the offseason.
The 35-year-old Sharp, who won three Stanley Cups in 10 seasons with the Hawks (2006-15), has eight goals and 18 points, with a minus-21 differential in 46 games this season. And with the Stars (29-33-10) in sixth place in the Central Division, Sharp will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“It’s been a tough season, that’s for sure,” Sharp said. “[Missing the playoffs will] be an opportunity for me to get healthy, I guess. It’ll be tough watching the playoffs, but that’s the position I’m in.”
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