CHICAGO -- Nick Schmaltz may just be a future linemate for Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Schmaltz is only 18 years old and heading into his freshman year at North Dakota, so he won’t be joining the duo anytime soon. But with Kane and Toews signing their eight-year extensions and Schmaltz showing off some rare offensive ability at the Blackhawks prospect camp last week, it’s not a complete reach to envision Schmaltz complementing one of their lines down the line.
“He's got obvious top-six potential for sure if he pans out,” ESPN's NHL Draft and Prospects analyst Corey Pronman said of Schmaltz. “His puck skills and vision are the clear strengths of his game.”
For the most part, that's a good situation to be in. But one of the potential issues has come to light this year. As seen in the case of Kevin Hayes, the Blackhawks' 2010 first-round draft pick, their prospects have the option of waiting out the period the organization owns their rights and when they can decide to become free agents.
One reason Hayes hasn't signed with the Blackhawks is because he doesn't see a place for himself in the NHL in the immediate future. Twenty-two years old and coming off a stellar senior season at Boston College, Hayes believes he can be in the NHL sooner rather than later. But with the talent the Blackhawks already have in the NHL and with more NHL-ready players waiting their turn in the AHL, Hayes would have to likely wait at least a season or two before he could be an everyday NHL player.
This may not be an issue going forward for the Blackhawks. It is uncommon for an organization's prospect to decline an entry-level contract and wait to become a free agent. Stephen Johns had the same option out of Notre Dame this year and signed with the Blackhawks.
CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up their annual prospect camp Friday. The camp entailed mostly skill work and practice for players under entry-level contracts, but unsigned prospects had a number of chances to compete throughout.
Here are some of those prospects who stood out during the six-day gathering at Johnny’s IceHouse West:
John Hayden, forward, third-round pick in 2013: Hayden made an impression with his size and offensive ability during the week, including on Chicago general manager Stan Bowman, who mentioned him first after the camp. Hayden is one of the Blackhawks’ bigger forward prospects at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. He showed he has more than size, displaying some skating ability and a knack for scoring goals (four over three scrimmages). He’ll be a sophomore at Yale next season.
Nick Schmaltz, forward, first-round pick in 2014: Schmaltz hit the ice as a Blackhawks prospect for the first time since being drafted in June, and he didn’t disappoint. The 18-year-old Wisconsin native has some elite offensive skills. He has quick hands and knows how to create space for himself -- and turned in a handful of highlight plays during the week. If he continues to develop, it’ll be difficult for the Blackhawks to keep him in college for four years. He’s set to be a freshman at North Dakota next season.
Anthony Louis, forward, sixth-round pick in 2013: Louis could be one of those late-round steals for the Blackhawks. His size (5-7, 150 pounds) is always going to be questioned, but he’s a tremendous playmaker. He was on a line with Hayden and Schmaltz throughout the week, and there was magic at times between them. Louis created something out of nothing, and it often led to goals for his linemates during the camp. He’ll be a sophomore at Miami (Ohio) next season.
Nick Mattson, defenseman, sixth-round pick in 2010: Mattson was attending his fifth prospect camp and will likely have one more in his future. The Blackhawks have liked his development since they drafted when he was in the USHL. He caught people’s attention with his ability to maneuver with the puck and see the ice during the week. His defensive game has also improved over the years. He’ll return to North Dakota for his senior season.
Vince Hinostroza, forward, sixth-round pick in 2012: Hinostroza arrived to the camp late because of school obligations, but made up for it by the end of the week. He has taken some steps in his game since last season and put on some muscle. He was stronger with the puck and scored three goals over the final two scrimmages. He had a productive freshman season at Notre Dame, and the Blackhawks like where his game is headed. He’s set to return to the Fighting Irish for his sophomore campaign.
Michael Paliotta, defenseman, third-round pick in 2011: Paliotta is another defenseman who has been around the block a few times at the prospect camp and has made some strides. He has quality size at 6-3 and 198 pounds and can skate. He has more of a shutdown defenseman, but he does possess offensive ability. He scored a goal on a big shot from the blue line during the second scrimmage. He’ll be a senior at Vermont next season.
Robin Norell, defenseman, fourth-round pick in 2013: Norell looked further ahead than the organization’s other Swedish defensemen at the camp. He was solid all week. He was able handle the puck and be defensively responsible. He’s still only 19, but he’s coming along. He’s expected to play in Sweden again next season.
Beau Starrett, forward, third-round pick in 2014: Starrett can’t be missed as a 6-5 forward. He’s a long-term project and won’t even begin college until 2015, but he could be worth the wait. He displayed a powerful shot and scored twice during the scrimmages. He’s expected to play in the USHL next season.
CHICAGO -- Stephen Johns is an old pro when it comes to the Chicago Blackhawks prospect camp.
Johns, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman, attended his fifth prospect camp this past week since being selected by the Blackhawks in the second round of the 2010 draft.
This year’s prospect camp did have a different feel for Johns than the previous four. Unlike the other ones, this year’s camp wasn’t leading into another year at Notre Dame for him. Instead, this camp represented a launching pad for his campaign to prove himself NHL-ready for the upcoming season.
“Obviously I don’t know what’s going to happen this fall,” the 22-year-old Johns said on the final day of the camp on Friday. “Years prior I knew I was going back to school. It was a little different, a little bit more focus on playing as good as I can be. Impress them as much as you can every chance you get. Yeah, it was a little different. I was one of the older guys for this year. It was fun, though, a lot of fun.”
Just never as high as he did after watching the 19-year-old Teravainen play Friday.
Teravainen especially caught the attention of his future coach during a scrimmage on the final day of the Blackhawks prospect camp. Teravainen was a threat to create scoring chances nearly every time he touched the puck during the 60-minute, running-clocking scrimmage.
“Today you get to see him play in a game situation, you see his abilities jump out,” Quenneville said Friday. “I thought he had a special day today. Over the course of the week, you can see his skills. When you put a puck down and you’re playing for real, you see his vision, anticipation and how he’s creating with the puck, and his anticipation offensively is excellent.
“He’s only going to get better with both sides of the puck as he gets over here and familiar with our game. Certainly fun watching him play and envision him playing where he’s going to be at some point in his career at the top end of the game. That’s an exciting guy to watch.”
Teravainen has often been considered the Blackhawks’ second-line center of the future, but he showed off his versatility to play wing Friday as well. He played left wing alongside Dennis Rasmussen at center and Ryan Hartman at right wing. Teravainen set up Rasmussen for a goal during the scrimmage.
That’s the reality of the Blackhawks' salary-cap situation. The Blackhawks are around $1.3 million above the $69 million cap for next season and must get under it before they set their roster. To do so, they will have to trade at least one player.
Blackhawks players acknowledged the team’s salary-cap issue prior to their fan convention on Friday.
"Yeah, I know," Blackhawks winger Bryan Bickell said about someone having to go before the season. "I haven't really looked too much into it. There's a couple adjustments that need to take part to get through this cap thing, but I’m not hearing anything, which is good. It's going to work out the way it is, and, hopefully, it will work for the best."
A number of Blackhawks have been associated with trade rumors throughout the offseason. Defenseman Johnny Oduya has been one of those players. Oduya said Friday he expected to return for another season, but he also has been around long enough to realize anything can happen. He has one season remaining on his contract and has a cap hit of $3.375 million for next season.
"I wouldn’t say nervous, but you know the reality of the business," Oduya said. "And I’ve been around it for a couple of these situations where you might be a little bit over. Or, on the other hand, you’re the cheaper player and you can fit in in a different way. It’s not really much you can do but realize the situation and you prepare for the season the same way.
"I think they’re happy with my play from last year. Like I said, it’s a new situation for next year. We’ll see what happens. I’m very, very happy to be here. This is the place where I really enjoy playing hockey, and I’ve loved it here so far. And I think I’ll like it in the future, too. If that’s not the case, I'll go somewhere else."
Forward Patrick Sharp also was rumored to be on the trading block this summer. His agent, Rick Curran, said recently the Blackhawks would not be trading Sharp.
Sharp addressed those rumors himself on Friday.
"There’s going to be talk, discussion, rumors," Sharp said. "It’s part of the business. But I think what my agent said was pretty self-explanatory. I’ve been able to get away from hockey and kind of relax a little bit. Just got back from Connecticut with my family yesterday. Looking forward to training and playing a great next year."
So, who’s going to be traded?
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman wouldn’t reveal that, but he said he wasn’t concerned about it.
"We certainly have to be ready to go by October," Bowman said. "That’s the goal. A lot of things change between now and then. You have to display some patience.
"Like I said all along, we have some ideas of what we’re going to do. A lot of things happen once camps open both for us and for other teams, in terms of players maybe you expect to meet expectations don’t quite do it and certain teams are looking around trying to find players. I always think you're always in a good position when you have a lot of established players. I think that’s better than the other way around."
Saad, 21, is set to become a restricted free agent after the 2014-15 season. He said Friday he and his agent haven’t had any contract negotiations with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman.
“Obviously, it was pretty busy with the deals we got done, and that’s huge for our team,” Saad said at the Blackhawks Convention on Friday. “Really just focused on preparing for this season, and we’ll deal with that when it comes. If it happens, great. It’s always nice to have that security and feel comfortable that you’ve re-signed.
“You play hockey and you focus on hockey. To get it out of the way, it’s always nice instead of having to wait until next summer. We’ll see how that goes. Right now I’m just focused on preparing for the season.”
Saad is coming off his second full season with the Blackhawks. He had 19 goals, 28 assists and was a plus-20 in the regular season last season. He played on the first, second and third lines at different times throughout the season.
Bowman wouldn’t set a timetable for Saad’s new contract, but it was on his to-do list going forward.
“We’ve tried to be consistent with when we identify players who are a big part of what we’ve done, [and then] we start talking about that,” Bowman said on Friday. “It’s been a busy time for us. We had the draft and free agency, and we’re just finishing prospect camp. We’re going to have some other things to look at over the next few weeks.
“Brandon’s come in at a young age and played a big role on our team and obviously that’s something we want to continue going forward,” Bowman continued. “He’s a special player ... to be able to accomplish what he’s done at his age. The exciting thing for all of us is that he just keeps getting better. We certainly haven’t seen the best of Brandon Saad. yet.
“He had a great season, and I would expect he would be one of the players who take an even bigger step next year in terms of a bigger role and asserting himself as a top player in the league.”
Bowman has re-signed players during the season in the past. Just last season, he re-signed Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig before they were able to become restricted free agents.
Saad played some of his best hockey alongside Kane at the end of last season during the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings. Saad had four goals and five assists during the series. He’s expected to join Kane and center Brad Richards on the second line to start next season.
Oduya, who was wearing a walking boot Friday, said he suffered the injury late in the third period against the Los Angeles Kings on June 1 and likely wouldn’t have been able to play in the Stanley Cup finals if the Blackhawks had advanced.
"Yeah, I broke it [the] last game, and it’s healing pretty good," Oduya said at the Blackhawks Convention at the Chicago Hilton. "I feel good, and I’ll be good to go [for training camp].
"[It was a] shot from the point, end of the third period, Game 7. I played the rest of the game. Usually not that bad. Once you take the skate off, it blows up on you. It would’ve been tougher afterward [if we advanced]."
Oduya’s name has been tossed around as someone the Blackhawks could trade this offseason to get under the salary cap, but Oduya said he expects to return to the team for another season.
"I think they’re happy with my play from last year. Like I said, it’s a new situation for next year," Oduya said. "We’ll see what happens. I’m very, very happy to be here. This is the place where I really enjoy playing hockey, and I’ve loved it here so far, and I think I’ll like it in the future, too. If that’s not the case, I'll go somewhere else.
"I wouldn’t say nervous, but you know the reality of the business, and I’ve been around it for a couple of these situations where you might be a little bit over or, on the other hand, you’re the cheaper player and you can fit in in a different way. It’s not really much you can do, but realize the situation and you prepare for the season the same way."
CHICAGO -- Inside a tucked-away club at the United Center, at a long table where the bottled water had the Chicago Blackhawks logo facing out to the cameras, five of the six most important members of the organization (no room for coach Joel Quenneville, who sat nearby) met the media to bask in their own good fortune on Wednesday afternoon.
The occasion was to formally announce the twin eight-year, $84 million contract extensions signed by Toews and Kane that will presumably keep the pair here through their mid-30s.
It's money well spent.
When Toews (the No. 3 pick in 2006) and Kane (No. 1 in 2007) were drafted as teenagers, the Blackhawks were a shell of a franchise. No crowds, no buzz.
Back then, Bowman was a front-office worker bee anonymous to 99 percent of Chicago and the son of a famous man. McDonough was dreaming of a World Series with the Chicago Cubs. And Wirtz was working for the family booze business.
Kane had more hair and less of an Internet rap sheet, and Toews, well, was a younger version of his current self.
Now, almost seven years later, the Blackhawks have two Stanley Cups, a season-ticket waiting list and a city full of rabid fans.
Time has been good to these men, as they've all grown rich and successful together.
"It's crazy to think it's been seven years already," Toews said. "It's amazing to think we're going to have a chance to continue this ride we've been on for another eight years, at least."
CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both top-five draft picks, began their NHL careers together for the Blackhawks in 2007 and have been behind the franchise's resurgence the last seven seasons. Chicago has won two Stanley Cup titles, reached four Western Conference finals and made six consecutive playoff appearances since their arrival.
Kane said they never considered exploring what their other options could be outside the Blackhawks.
"Even you can see free agents these days, they want to come to Chicago and be a part of not only this team and organization, but the city and the fans as well, obviously the tradition that has been going on here for the past few years of winning hockey games," Kane said. "It was not even a thought to think about continuing your career anywhere else. I think we're both happy we're locked up here for a while."
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Wednesday he understands there will be salary cap challenges ahead after recently re-signing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to identical eight-year, $84 million contract extensions, but it's his job to make it work.
The new contracts for Kane and Toews will go into effect during the 2015-16 season. The NHL's salary cap is at $69 million for the upcoming season, but is expected to increase in future seasons.
"It benefits everybody. It says a lot about what kind of guys these guys are ... I guess the way they've gelled in the community and been a part of Chicago sports history in a short amount of time is special. I think everybody should take part of that responsibility. Hey, they're a part of it here.
"Certainly we're very happy Jonny and Kaner chose to stay here long term and be Blackhawks forever, which is unique in today's league, today's game, so we're very fortunate. We see a lot of good things go forward with these two guys."
The Blackhawks announced last week Kane and Toews each signed eight-year contract extensions which will run through the 2022-23 season. Each contract is for $84 million with an average annual salary of $10.5 million, according to a source. They previously agreed to a five-year, $31.5 million extension which will end after next season.
Quenneville has coached Kane and Toews for six of their seven seasons. Together, they have made six consecutive playoff appearances, been to four Western Conference finals and won two Stanley Cups.
Quenneville believes Kane and Toews have put themselves in a unique situation throughout their careers.
"I don't think I've seen a tandem like this almost like basically every step of the way been at the same level, the same impact on the team, the community, basically hand in hand being at the same place," Quenneville said. "Usually there's maybe a differential how people view their contributions. But it's amazing how the parallels of the two guys have been incredibly similar right down to their existence here going forward. Two of the greatest players in the game, and they're going to be moving together, very unique in today's world."
As good as Kane and Toews are on the same team, Quenneville still believes the Blackhawks are most dangerous when they're not on the ice together.
"As a coach, you've got two great players," Quenneville said. "You know you have a lot of offense coming in a lot of different areas. I still think they like playing with one another. As a coach, it's almost like we like you playing together, but spread out it makes us a much better team and it's nice to have lot of options as you go throughout the year and as you go into the playoffs."
Patricia Higgins filed a personal injury lawsuit against the United Center Joint Venture, which is a partnership between the Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois on Friday.
Higgins was seated in row 11, section 115, which is in the stadium's southwest corner, when a puck was hit into the stands and struck her during the game on June 12, 2013, according to the complaint. The United Center Joint Venture, which owns and maintains the stadium, is accused of not having a functional safety net which would have protected her from the puck.
The complaint states Higgins "sustained injuries, suffered pain, lost wages and medical bill, and will continue to suffer such damages in the future." Damages sought from the lawsuit are for an unspecified amount of money, but they do exceed $50,000, according to the complaint.
Spokespersons for both the United Center and the Blackhawks declined to comment on the lawsuit. A message left for Higgins' lawyer was not immediately returned on Tuesday.
Higgins was interviewed by a number of local media outlets following the incident in June of 2013. She told ABC Chicago her family owned Blackhawks season tickets and the incident occurred near the end of the third period of Game 1.
"The next thing I know I was struck in my head, my forehead, and I could not see," Higgins told ABC 7.
How long will that last? That’s up for debate.
The Kane and Toews contracts came in right about where you’d expect. What it means moving forward is it gives future franchise players closing in on unrestricted free agency a new baseline in which to negotiate. To one agent, who has a prominent player who could be in extension talks next summer, it’s confirmation that teams believe the cap will be going up every bit as aggressively as the players believe.
“People are in agreement the cap is going up,” he said. “You’re probably looking at $80 million in a couple years. That’s a clear indication that there are teams that believe it as well.”
The other thing that stood out to this agent?
“It was pretty interesting in the way they structured it. If you did present value, it’s closer to eight times $11 million. Getting the money up front,” he said.
His conclusion on the value of the deals?
“I think it’s dead on,” he said. “It’s healthy for the league. I know a lot of free agents coming up saw that and were like ‘Perfect.’”
Kane and Toews are unique in that they were slated to hit unrestricted free agency in their primes, which doesn’t happen for franchise players anymore with so many locked up long-term. There aren’t many who will be in that position the next couple years, but here’s a look at players who will ultimately be impacted by the Kane and Toews contracts in the next couple years:
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning -
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