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."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Blackhawks tickets right here!]

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.
 

Panarin’s rep: 'He’ll forever cherish his time in Chicago'

Panarin’s rep: 'He’ll forever cherish his time in Chicago'

A little more than two years ago Artemi Panarin had many NHL teams vying for his services, the Blackhawks winning the bidding war and signing him. On Friday the Panarin-Blackhawks union was over, the 25-year-old traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But according to his agent, if Panarin had it to do all over again, he still would have signed with the Blackhawks.

Dan Milstein, who represents Panarin, said the Russian left wing is forever grateful to the Blackhawks for the past two seasons in which he put up stellar numbers in consecutive regular seasons.

“The experience, playing on the same line with [Artem] Anisimov and [Patrick] Kane, having coach [Joel] Quenneville and many other members of the organization help him along the way, providing the translation services and being there for him, the entire process made his transition to North America extremely easy,” Milstein said. “He’ll forever cherish his time in Chicago.”

Milstein was in Chicago on Friday morning when he got the call from Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman on the trade – Bowman told the media on Friday that the deal “came together pretty quickly.” Milstein immediately called Panarin, who was about to get on a plane for a fishing trip in Russia.

“Initially he was shocked. But as the day went on we kept in touch and he understands,” Milstein said. “He said, ‘I understand it’s a business. I accept the challenge.’ His last words were, ‘I accept the challenge.’”

The deal, which sent Panarin and his upcoming two-year deal worth $6 million per season to Columbus, brought Brandon Saad back to Chicago. Saad will likely bring stability to the Blackhawks’ top line, which has missed his presence since he was traded in the summer of 2015. Who Kane’s left wing will be this season remains to be seen. Quenneville said on Saturday that Nick Schmaltz will probably get a good chance there; he played with Kane when Anisimov was hurt last season.

Still, the chemistry between Kane and Panarin will be tough to match. Milstein said he saw Kane briefly at the NHL Draft on Friday night, and that he told Milstein, “just let [Panarin] know that I love him.”

Panarin, like most of the Blackhawks, had a very quiet postseason. After recording seven points against the St. Louis Blues, Panarin had just one assist in four games against the Nashville Predators. Not long after the playoffs Panarin was interviewed in Russian. One of the quotes, translated into English, read, “I was not in the best shape and didn’t have enough strength” for the playoffs. Milstein didn’t believe that was an accurate translation.

“If you know Panarin, in his native tongue he’s very funny. If you use a translator, sometimes it takes things out of context. But I don’t believe that’s what he meant,” Milstein said. “He put a good [regular] season together, a fair season, but the performance in the playoffs, obviously, he was disappointed. He was frustrated with his performance.”

Milstein said Panarin will probably head to Columbus in a few weeks; he’s currently waiting on visa issues. Panarin’s time in Chicago was shorter than most thought it would be but his agent said he’s ready for the next challenge.

“Artemi is looking forward to coming here,” said Milstein, who was in Columbus on Monday. “This will be a good opportunity to shine.”

Blackhawks ink Anton Forsberg, Tomas Jurco

Blackhawks ink Anton Forsberg, Tomas Jurco

When the Blackhawks traded to get Brandon Saad back, they also acquired Anton Forsberg, who they believe is ready to be their latest backup goaltender. On Monday they signed him to a two-year deal.

The Blackhawks inked two players on Monday, Forsberg, whose contract runs through the 2018-19 season, and Tomas Jurco, who agreed to a one-year contract extension.

Forsberg joins the Blackhawks having very little NHL experience – he’s played 10 career games at this level, going 1-8-0. But the Blackhawks’ previous two backup goaltenders, Antti Raanta and Scott Darling, hadn’t made an NHL appearance before joining the Blackhawks. Forsberg led the Cleveland Monsters, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ AHL-affiliate team, to a Calder Cup title in 2016; during that run he went 9-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .949 save percentage.

On Friday, when the Blackhawks acquired Saad and Forsberg from Columbus for Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte, general manager Stan Bowman said the team is, “optimistic about Anton’s potential.”

“We like his profile as a goalie,” he said. “He’s a big guy, takes up a lot of net, has that mobility and makes good positional saves as well as athletic saves. A year ago, led his team to the [Calder] Cup championships, so he knows what it’s like to put a team on his back. It was the AHL but he’s had a lot of success there. He’s earned the right to be an NHL goalie.”

Jurco, acquired by the Blackhawks from Detroit in February, played 13 games with them down the regular-season stretch. Bowman said shortly after the trade that Jurco would get a chance here.

“We’ll be patient with him but we really think there’s a good fit there, looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” he said. “I think a lot of ways, sometimes guys need different opportunities. It doesn’t work out in every place. A fresh start will be great for Tomas.”