Speedy Vinnie Hinostroza learning to rein himself in

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Vinnie Hinostroza waits for a faceoff during the third period of Tuesday’s preseason game in Boston. (AP Photo)

Vinnie Hinostroza doesn’t have Artem Anisimov’s size, or Patrick Kane’s hands, or Jonathan Toews’ strength in the corners. What he does have is speed, lots of it, and a seemingly bottomless well of energy. Hinostroza is at his best when he’s playing like his hair is on fire — flying through the neutral zone, launching himself into puck battles along the boards, backchecking with almost reckless abandon.

That’s how he got to the NHL in the first place. But he knows if he wants to stay in the league, he has to learn to dial it back.

“Last year, I was just flying all over the ice,” Hinostroza said. “This summer, I worked on picking my spots, how to use my speed in tight areas to get away from defenders.”

It might seem strange for an athlete to say he needs to rein himself in. But speed is only useful when used properly. Duncan Keith can skate forever because he knows how to conserve energy on the ice. Marian Hossa was such an effective backchecker largely because he could turn it on and off instantly. Skate too fast and you burn yourself out. Go too hard and you can overpursue. Chase every puck at breakneck speed and you can get out of position and leave yourself vulnerable to a quick transition.

Rookies play hard. Savvy veterans play smart.

“It’s about being patient,” Hinostroza said. “Once my teammate’s ready to make a pass, or when a ‘D’ is turning, then really turn it on. Know when to slow down and when to speed up. I was just getting myself out of position by skating too much, when I should have just stopped and waited and reacted to the play with my speed, instead of trying to overthink it.”

Hinostroza, who is trying to make his way through the logjam of forwards fighting for the last couple of spots in the lineup, has been more conscious of what his teammates are doing. Ease up through the neutral zone, then fly after the puck once it’s chipped in. Put the defense on its heels with speed, then get yourself in position to make a play or receive a pass. Don’t come shooting out of the corner until you know your teammate has the puck and no longer needs the support.

These are little things that come with experience, with 56 NHL games played — 49 of them last year, when Hinostroza had six goals and eight assists in various roles up and down the lineup.

“There’s a time and a place [for speed],” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s finding that balance. But he’s got a great asset with that quickness. We don’t want to lose that — that’s his key strength.”

Hinostroza spent much of his summer working out with Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman. Part of his training included improving his mental skills. Hinostroza read the book “Mind Gym” and has been trying to apply its belief in the power of positive thinking.

“Keep negative thoughts out of your head,” he said. “Whenever you start thinking negative or even thinking about thinking negative, just realize you can’t control everything. What you can control, just focus on that and always have a positive attitude.”

That’s good advice for someone who entered camp on the outside looking in, and is trying to force his way past a handful of veterans while battling fellow young guys for a precious roster spot. The more control Hinostroza has over his own game, and his own speed, the better off he’ll be.

“Everyone comes into camp knowing that they have to play the best they can,” Hinostroza said. “My mindset coming into camp was just being confident and knowing my game. Having fun and working hard.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com


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