The Chicago Blackhawks have found success in recent years due, in large part, to their core players. They’ve been through it all, from the team’s resurgence to the Stanley Cup season to a somewhat rebuild.
They’re the backbone of the Blackhawks. But the backbone has had a lot of help this season, and a good deal of it has come from its youth.
From Nick Leddy to Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, the Blackhawks’ younger players have made their contributions felt this season. All around the 20-22-year-old range, all are playing bigger than their years belie.
“Those young guys… have been a huge part of our success,” Duncan Keith said. “A lot of the big guys get credit, but those other guys, when they can contribute like they have, it’s a huge difference. A lot of times, that’s the difference in winning, especially in a playoff series.”
A total team effort has gotten the Blackhawks to 62 points and a playoff berth. The young players have been a big help. Here’s a look at what who has done this season:
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Nick Leddy: If he’s not the most improved of the Blackhawks from last season to this one, he’s got to be very close to the top. Leddy had a tough sophomore season, and it didn’t help that the Blackhawks demanded much of him in Brian Campbell’s trade wake. Now a year older (22) and currently playing with Brent Seabrook, Leddy has been impressive. His plus-minus, an ugly number last season, is on the positive side. He’s used his speed to drive to the net and is one of the Blackhawks’ better puck-moving defensemen. Coach Joel Quenneville said he had “a special game on the back end” in the Blackhawks’ 5-3 victory over Nashville on Sunday night.
Marcus Kruger: Another 22-year-old, whom Quenneville called “Mr. Reliable,” Kruger has bounced between two lines this season but has been strong on both. He anchored the fourth line through most of the early season, moving to second-line center in Dave Bolland’s two injury absences, including this latest one. It was a seamless transition. But Kruger’s impact is probably mainly felt on the Blackhawks’ penalty kill, which has gone 17 for 17 in the last nine games.
Brandon Saad: The 20-year-old nicknamed “Man-Child” got the opportunity to play on the Blackhawks’ top line when Daniel Carcillo got hurt. But ultimately, it was up to him on whether or not he took advantage of it. He has. Saad plays a fierce, determined game that’s won him praise from Blackhawks coaches and teammates. Former NHLer Greg Gilbert, Saad’s coach when he played for the Saginaw Spirit last season, said “the one thing that Brandon had to overcome… was that he had to learn that, ‘You’re a man now.’ You have to force your will on other players and teams.” He’s done just that.
Andrew Shaw: You can say this for Shaw: he won’t back down from anyone, regardless of the height advantage they have over him. When Shaw chose to tussle with a 6-foot-7 Hal Gill on Sunday night, Quenneville comented that “he’s definitely not in the right weight class.” Others were willing to help even the score, too. “[Brandon] Bollig said, ‘If you guys are going to go I’ll get Shaw a stepladder,” Shaw said Sunday night. Shaw’s scrappy element has been key, as has his work at center, a move he made this season beginning in Rockford.