Tanner Kero’s consistency leads to longer stay with Blackhawks

Tanner Kero’s consistency leads to longer stay with Blackhawks

When you're an in-season call-up you know your stay is always up in the air. Maybe you were called up because someone else is hurt and once that player returns to the lineup, you'll probably return to the minors. Or you were called up to give the team a boost, offensively or defensively, and if you don't do it you'll be reassigned.

Tanner Kero is familiar with the scenarios and the uncertainties. When he was recalled for an injured Artem Anisimov just before Christmas, Kero approached it the same way he did when he joined the Blackhawks last season. That was a brief stay. This has become a long-term one.

Kero played in his 37th game on Sunday, his bank-shot pass to Marcus Kruger leading to the latter's empty-net goal in the Blackhawks' 6-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Kero has helped fill the bottom-six need at center, has been solid in faceoffs (he's just under 46 percent for the season) and has been part of the team's dependable youth movement this season. Kero said he's appreciated the long-term opportunity but he approaches every game as another audition.

"You're never too sure how long a call-up is going to be, for whatever the reason you're being called up is, but you want to take advantage of that opportunity and work hard every day and try to earn that spot," Kero said. "If you get that consistent ice time you just try to get better, not just be satisfied with that. You try to earn as much as you can, earn their trust and more opportunities."

Coach Joel Quenneville credits Kero with bringing a consistent game.

"He's reliable in a lot of ways," he said. "He puts himself in the right spot, down low in his own end, underneath coverage, and seems to be useful in killing penalties as well. There's more offense in his game that hopefully can come around and add to his reliability defensively. We feel he's done a good job of being a guy in the middle you can use and we like what he's brought to our team in a position where, [earlier in] the year, I don't know if he was forecast to be a regular like that. But he's become more and more reliable, or used more."

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Kero doesn't take anything for granted, even though he's had a stead role this late in the regular season. That pressure is part of what fuels him. 

"That pushes you a little extra every day," he said. "You want to make sure you're doing all the little things right. You never know when the opportunity will be taken away for whatever reason. You want to take advantage of it and make the most of it."

Kero's learned a lot in his time with the Blackhawks. He's more confident in his role, more confident with the puck and knowing when to demand it, hold it or give it up. He's also getting great experience in dealing with the more intense regular-season stretch run, something he'll need if he's part of the postseason (and as of now it looks like he will be). 

"You want to play against those good teams, to play on the road and in different atmospheres and get used to it, get the confidence to play your game in those environments," Kero said. "Heading into the playoffs that's a huge thing, especially playing against teams like Minnesota who are right in the race with you. You want to trust yourself and trust you can play in that situation."

Kero has earned trust this season. What looked like a short-term stay when he first arrived has become a lengthy one. But he'll keep playing like he has to prove himself every game.
 

Blackhawks trade Scott Darling to Hurricanes for draft pick

Blackhawks trade Scott Darling to Hurricanes for draft pick

The Blackhawks have traded goaltender Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round draft pick in 2017, the team announced Friday. The third-rounder was previously acquired from the Ottawa Senators.

"We could count on Scott in any situation as he was always reliable," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. "We appreciate his contributions to the Blackhawks organization — including a Stanley Cup Championship team — and we wish him well as he continues his career in Carolina."

In three seasons with Chicago, the 28-year-old Lemont native had a 39-17-9 record with a 2.37 goals against average, .923 save percentage and four shutouts. He was also a key member of the 2015 Stanley Cup-winning team, helping the Blackhawks get out of the first round against the Nashville Predators.

His best year came during the 2016-17 campaign when he set a career high with 18 wins and ranked tied for fifth in the league with a .924 save percentage, and has earned the opportunity to become a full-time starter. It was always unlikely that it would be in his hometown of Chicago with Corey Crawford under contract through 2019-20, but Friday confirmed that.

"I feel like I've paid my dues as a backup," Darling said at the end of the season. "And when I've had a chance to play in consecutive games I feel like I've shown that I can do it."

He also reflected on his last three years with the Blackhawks "just in case," and had nothing but great things to say about his tenure in Chicago.

"If that does happen, I wouldn't change a second of my time in Chicago," Darling said at the time. "It's been bar-none the best three years of my life. Loved every second. They've been so great to me, my teammates, coaching staff, front office, everybody's been amazing. I wouldn't change a minute."

The Blackhawks will likely look externally for a backup option next season with minor-leaguers Mac Carruth and Lars Johansson due new contracts, and 31-year-old Jeff Glass, who was the No. 3 netminder in the playoffs, having no NHL experience.

The Hurricanes currently own Darling's negotiating rights, and have until July 1 to sign him to an extension when he could hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. Contract talks have not yet started, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

They have two goaltenders (Eddie Lack and Cam Ward) under contract for one more year, meaning a corresponding move could be coming before the expansion draft. One (or both) of them would have to be exposed, assuming Darling signs before then and is protected.

The Blackhawks, who host the NHL Draft from June 23-24, now have 10 draft picks this year: a first, second, fourth, three fifth's, two sixth's and two seventh's.

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.