There was something of a mini-panic when Patrick Sharp went down with his wrist injury against Detroit on Sunday, and rightfully so. The Blackhawks hadn’t exactly been setting the world on fire with their play and losing their second-leading goal scorer surely wasn’t going to do them any favors.
Add that to the fact that Marcus Kruger was already out with a concussion and you have the potential for even bigger struggles without the two in the lineup.
But that hasn’t been the case. Thanks to a pair of rookies, the Hawks have picked up their play of late and are now looking to overcome what was an iffy stretch of games for them.
The past couple of weeks have seen the Hawks shuffle plenty of youngsters between Rockford and the big club, but none have had the impact of Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw. The two have played as well as anyone in the lineup recently, and are making their case to extend their stay in Chicago.
Perhaps it’s less surprising that Hayes has found success, given the type of role he can assume in Chicago. Needing a skilled big body in the lineup, and with Bryan Bickell failing on all fronts, Hayes has stepped into the type of role expected from Bicks and outplayed him in every aspect.
He’s played well at both ends of the ice, has seen time on special teams, helping out the power play in particular, and has found his scoring touch, with four goals since his callup from the Icehogs. He skated over 16 minutes on Tuesday, playing with Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa on the second line.
Shaw is a much bigger surprise, given the fact that he was a 2011 draft pick. But with Daniel Carcillo going down with a suspension/knee injury, the Hawks needed someone with that fiery personality in the lineup, and Shaw fits the bill.
He’s not the biggest guy, but plays bigger than he is and has an edge to his game. He made waves with his first NHL fight against Philly last week, in which Zac Rinaldo left him bloodied. He’s also netted a couple of goals in his brief time with the Hawks this season, including one against Minnesota on Thursday.
If you had to pick only one of them to stick with the Blackhawks for the long haul this season, it has to be Hayes. He’s the big body the Hawks have been looking for, and has very easily outplayed Bryan Bickell. If he continues to improve, the Blackhawks can throw him anywhere in the lineup and he’ll be successful.
Nonetheless, the fact that the Hawks have thrown in two more rookies, making it six for the season, and have found so much success just adds to the argument that the Blackhawks have one of the best organizations in the entire National Hockey League, as far as their depth is concerned. But at the same time, there will be plenty of weariness if the Hawks find themselves leaning on guys like Hayes and Shaw when the stretch run rolls around.