ST. LOUIS — It’s difficult to overstate just how much Joel Quenneville adored Andrew Shaw, because it’s difficult to overstate just how much Shaw did for the Blackhawks. Oh, there was the occasional — OK, frequent — mind-numbing penalty late in a close game that drove Quenneville batty, but the coach didn’t deem Shaw “irreplaceable” shortly before he was traded to Montreal out of hyperbole.
Shaw did just about everything for the Hawks. He agitated. He hit. He fought. He played net-front on power plays. He scored goals. He scored big goals. He played left wing, center and right wing. He played first line, second line, third line, and fourth line.
Whatever Quenneville needed, Shaw was his guy.
“It’s a tough job,” Quenneville said. “He did a tremendous job for us. He was resilient — the tenacity, the competitiveness, the annoyance that he brought. He [had] the perfect recipe, and did a tremendous job. You’re not going to find another Shawzie.”
Well, Ryan Hartman is going to try.
It’s entirely unfair and unrealistic to expect Hartman to simply be Shaw right away, but the 22-year-old West Dundee native has embraced the label, and the opportunity created by Shaw’s departure.
“That style is how I’ve played my whole life,” Hartman said. “I still need to prove myself, and go out and play every night like he did and do everything I can to make this team. He came here and obviously did plenty of good things. He had a really good stint here. Now that he’s gone, there’s a space to fill. We’re different players, and we’ve done different things in our careers. But there are definitely similarities.”
From a pedigree standpoint, they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Shaw was famously passed over in two straight drafts before the Hawks took him in the fifth round in 2011. He wound up playing 37 NHL games that very season and went on to be a pivotal player in two Stanley Cup runs. Hartman, meanwhile, was a first-round pick in 2013 and has been biding his time for three full seasons — one in the OHL, and two in Rockford — with just eight NHL games to his credit.
But they both play bigger than their size (Hartman is listed at 6-0, 191 pounds). They both have a tendency to get under opponents’ skin. And they’ve both been productive players at every level. In his two junior seasons and two pro seasons, Hartman has averaged a very Shaw-like 19 goals and 115 penalty minutes. He entered Saturday’s preseason finale in St. Louis with a goal and a team-high 17 penalty minutes.
Shaw’s productivity was often lost amid his penchant for sparking skirmishes, but he was a 20-goal scorer in 2013-14, and had 29 goals over the last two seasons. He even spent much of last season as Jonathan Toews’ left wing. That’s what separated him from so many other so-called agitators. And that’s what Hartman is hoping to duplicate.
“We don’t expect him to do that,” Quenneville cautioned. “The role is a little bit different. I think he’s looking to get established in his own right. He’s looking to be a regular, and get better [moving forward]. You’ve got to be yourself, you’ve got to play your own game, and play to your strengths.”
Hartman’s not shying away from the challenge, though. He seems like a foregone conclusion to make the team, with general manager Stan Bowman saying it’s time for the Hawks to give their next generation of players a long look at the NHL level with four or five openings up front. Hartman likely will be slotted — at least, to start — in a hybrid checking/scoring role on an intriguing line with Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa.
For the local kid, it’s finally starting to feel normal to be in a Blackhawks dressing room, and to wear a Blackhawks sweater. Now it’s just a matter of proving he’s an everyday NHL player, and perhaps a worthy successor to one of the most versatile and popular Hawks in recent memory.
“It definitely feels a lot more normal now,” Hartman said. “It feels like this is the year you want to be here full time. That opportunity is there, and opportunities like this don’t come every year. I’ve just got to take advantage of it.”