Since joining the Blackhawks, Tyler Motte’s been all over the place in the lineup: third line, second line, top line and back to the third line.
For the rookie, that’s no problem.
“They keep you on your toes, keeps the guys loose. No one gets too comfortable in their spot,” Motte said of the line changes. “Especially me, as a young guy, I like that. coming in every day, you may get a little different taste. Keeps you on your toes, keeps you working hard.”
No, this is not a story about line changes — we’ve had plenty of those and there will likely be more in the future. This story is about how the rookies are handling things in this very early season, be it taking on responsibility handling the ups and downs and working through those line changes.
For the most part, the young forwards and defensemen have done all right. Michal Kempny has been solid, and should be back in the lineup Friday night when the Blackhawks face the New Jersey Devils. Gustav Forsling was doing fine prior to suffering an upper-body injury against Calgary on Monday night. He’s out against the Devils but could be back on Sunday vs. the Los Angeles Kings.
As for the forwards, Motte, Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman have been in the lineup for most or all of these early games. Be it the higher level of play or the speed, they’re adjusting as they go.
“I just think obviously the first couple of games you’re nervous. Playing against the best players in the world, it’s definitely a big step. But as the games go on you get a better feel of what to do with the puck and you realize you have a little more time than you think when you have it,” Nick Schmaltz said recently. “I think I’m just slowing the game down and just trying to play my game. I feel more comfortable out there every shift, every game.”
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Growing pains are expected. Coach Joel Quenneville said it’s about how the young guys adapt to everything.
“With all of them, basically, we’re looking for consistency. That’s how their games are going to get better, because they do have some good attributes that have them here,” Quenneville said. “From there, let’s get to where they’re getting better, and that’s with the little things and with the pucks and that intensity that grows knowing that’s what this league’s all about. The guys who work harder come up with more pucks.”
Hartman already knew what to expect, given he made his NHL debut in February 2015. He certainly knew the physical requirements of the game immediately — just YouTube his big hit, on his first NHL shift, on former Devils forward Dainius Zubrus.
“You start to learn what to expect,” Hartman said. “If it’s a certain team you’re playing against you know how the game’s going to go. The speed of the game and the systems, too, are a big thing with Joel. After playing however many games I’ve played now, it all comes together.”
Every player, regardless of experience level, has to adjust and roll with changes, be it lines or responsibility. For the veterans, maybe it becomes a bit of old hat. For the rookies, they’re learning. And contributing. They’ll get there.
“Starting from the preseason the games were fast, physical. You get a little different taste, a little different strategy every night, depending on who you’re playing where you’re playing,” Motte said. “It’s been fast, it’s been intense. We’ve had some tight games which is all expected. There are no easy games in this league. You just have to go compete, do your best to win.”