Kane takes command when Blackhawks need him most

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Kane takes command when Blackhawks need him most

Jamal Mayers was choosing his words cautiously regarding Patrick Kane.

I have to be careful. I dont want his head to get any bigger than it already is, Mayers said jokingly after Saturdays practice.

All kidding aside, however, the veteran admires the 23-year-old Kanes recent role. Playing the No. 1 center position can be an unenviable task. But Kanes play there in the absence of Jonathan Toews has been stellar.

Ive been telling him for a couple weeks now that hes surprised me in raising his game, Mayers continued. Hes skating the best hes ever skated. And you add his vision and awareness on the ice and he has the opportunity to be the best player on the ice every night.

Kanes work lately could be measured in a few ways. The obvious is points: Kane has nine in his last nine games, including five (two goals, three assists) in his current four-game point streak. But thats just looking at the obvious. Kane has been skating well, is always a threat and is part of a strong top line with Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette.

And hes taken on some leadership, too.

I like the fact that hes absorbing responsibility without Johnny around, coach Joel Quenneville said. He knows the importance of the situation with our team, where we we're at and where we are today. He wants to make an impact on games and its been noticeable.

Viktor Stalberg agreed.

Hes had some stretches where hes struggled. Hes still a young guy; you kind of forget that sometimes. But the last couple games hes been great for us, he said. We needed someone to fill that first-line center void for Toews and hes been doing a good job with it.

Kane, for his part, doesnt feel hes doing anything different than normal. He said recently that he does feel good at center right now and its showing. But Kane said its been a team effort in Toews absence.

You see a lot of guys playing a lot of different roles now and its nice to see everybody step up, too, he said. Everyone knows we miss Johnny but theres no predicting when hell be back. We have to have different players step up, get a little bit more ice time and more opportunity. Its a good test for everyone.

That includes Kane. Hes still 23, still has years ahead of him. But at a time when hes needed to grow in his game and take charge, he has.

Hes definitely taken a step forward, Mayers said. And it hasnt gone unnoticed.

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year. 

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Nick Schmaltz will be joining Blackhawks teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk on Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the club announced Thursday.

It will be his first career appearance on the U.S. men's national team and third time representing his country in world-championship play, most recently winning a bronze medal at the 2016 World Juniors. He scored two goals and added six assists in seven games during that tournament.

Schmaltz just completed his first professional season with the Blackhawks, where he tallied six goals and 22 assists in 61 games. 

After the year ended, he spoke about the possibility of playing for USA in this tournament and what it would mean to him.

"I think it's a great tournament," Schmaltz said. "You get to play with a lot of great players. Look like a lot of great players are going to the tournament, so it's definitely a big stage. It would be a fun tournament."

The roster now includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Among the other NHLers going for the Americans: Danny DeKeyser, Noah Hanifin, Jimmy Howard, Dylan Larkin, Anders Lee, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Murphy, Brock Nelson and Jacob Trouba.

Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger (Sweden) and Artemi Panarin (Russia) will also compete in the tournament, which begins May 5 and runs until May 21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.