The first time doing something can be stressful but add moving away from home and playing in front of thousands of fans and that stress can go through the roof. So naturally, NHL rookies may seem a little nerve-racked and that can affect their game on the ice. But if the Chicago Blackhawks 2015-2016 rookies were having any trouble, you’d be hard pressed to find any evidence in their play.
Blackhawks Rookies Proving Their Value
Okay really? Is it even fair to consider this guy a rookie?
Artemi Panarin had been playing over in the KHL for five seasons and finally made the switch over to the NHL. He leads all rookies in the league in scoring by 12 points with 17 goals and 29 assists going into the All-Star break. To help put that in perspective, his own captain, Jonathan Toews, has 19 goals and 16 assists on the season.
Besides the obvious skill involved to achieve that feat, it also helps to play on a line with Patrick Kane. That second line with Panarin, Kane and Artem Anisimov was the only consistently productive line the Blackhawks had right before their 12-game franchise-record win streak. The chemistry that Panarin and Kane have figured out mesmerizes the audience and (lucky for them) their defenders.
One of the things I would like to see Panarin do more is shoot the puck. He, just like Kane, has the skill to deke out defenders and bring the puck right to the net but is always looking for that perfect pass instead of shooting. With more games under his belt, Panarin will eventually get comfortable enough in his own abilities and can be a 30+ goal scorer in the NHL. But for now, I have nothing to complain about. Keep on keeping on, “Breadman.”
Although he was in Rockford until the beginning of December, Dennis Rasmussen definitely made an impact in his Blackhawks debut. Not only does his physical size of 6’3” and 205 lbs add a much needed physical presence to the lineup, but scoring on his first shot in his first game in the NHL brings a surprising but nice depth of scoring to the bottom line.
Rasmussen joins a list including Toews and Andrew Shaw of current Blackhawks who have scored on their first shot on net in their NHL debut – not the worst company in the world. With his physique, he can add to that one goal just by standing in front of the net and blocking the opposing goaltender’s view, which head coach Joel Quenneville wants more of from his team anyway.
After his first career marker Rasmussen continued on a hot streak, scoring two more goals in his next six games with the Blackhawks by doing exactly that and taking the puck to the net and not trying to be pretty about it. His scoring touch has worn off since he first joined the team but that could be a good thing, too.
Rasmussen was originally called up to provide the physical presence that Bryan Bickell was lacking. If he continues to rough up the competition and be willing to do the dirty work in front of the net, he will become a highly sought after bottom six player when free agency comes around.
Being called up and sent back down to the minors could have been a big blow to Erik Gustafsson’s morale, but instead the d-man used that time to hone his skating and defensive game. That hard work paid off when he was called up for a second time this year and inserted into the lineup.
He was originally sent back down because of Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival coming off of IR, so Gustafsson drew the short stick not necessarily because of his game. But now with David Rundblad off on waivers, the Blackhawks have a smaller number of defensemen, thus being able to give Gustafsson a second chance.
He proved to be a reliable offensive talent on the back end with eight assists in his first 20 games this season. This coming from a team of offensive defensemen like Keith with 30 points in 43 games and Brent Seabrook with 31 points in 53 games adds to a threat that other teams in the NHL are not looking forward to neutralizing.
Although Gustafsson isn’t on a Keith/Seabrook level, the young Swede shows a high potential for scoring in the future once he becomes more comfortable playing a North American style game. Quenneville likes and trusts Gustafsson’s offensive and defensive play enough to put him on the power play, which is among the league leaders at 21.5% for the season.
With all of his offensive potential, Gustafsson needs to focus more on his defensive game, maybe taking a page out of the book of his fellow countryman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who may be one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. But there is plenty of time to grow for the 23-year-old both on and off the ice. As of right now, he’s on the right track.