By Adam Hess
The Blackhawks being among the NHL’s best teams is hardly any sort of new development when looking at their incredible run of success over the last decade. Their league dominance since 2009 is unparalleled, and their ability to keep the core of the roster intact has played a major role in that continued success.
However, the real key to all of their success has been their ability to find and acquire effective players to fill their key depth roles. Johnny Oduya, Antoine Vermette, Andrew Shaw, and several others found ways to make themselves some of the team’s best and most impactful players despite not necessarily filling the biggest roles. Having those strong performers signed to affordable contracts was a huge help to the cap-strapped Hawks, as well.
This year, however, the Blackhawks came into the season with arguably the shallowest forward group they’ve had in this era of the team. With several rookies and formerly irregular players filling out the team’s main roster, there were a ton of questions surrounding the Blackhawks’ depth, and if what they had would be enough for them to be one of the top teams and Stanley Cup contenders this season.
However, the Blackhawks have found a way to get themselves there this year, and they’ve done so with strong performances from those rookies and depth players. Ryan Hartman has been one of their best forwards this year, and arguably their best in the past two weeks. Vinnie Hinostroza has been effective in a fourth line role, and has scored important goals at clutch moments in each of the team’s last two games, helping them to wins in both.
Michal Kempny has been one the team’s best defensemen, despite somewhat strange usage and sometimes getting scratched in favor of other defensemen. Gustav Forsling, the impressive young defenseman acquired by the Hawks in exchange for former top prospect Adam Clendening, has played well, even through his rookie struggles.
Most impressive, though, has been Scott Darling, and his incredible play in Corey Crawford’s injury absence. Darling has posted an impressive .927 save percentage over his last five games, all of which were wins. His overall performance this season sees him with the same save rate in his 16 appearances, good enough to tie him with Crawford for 10th best in the NHL.
While key players like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford have dealt with injuries or struggled to find the score sheet, the Hawks have seen their depth players step up in big ways, despite early doubts to how successful that depth would be. If this continues, it might not be all that unrealistic to hope for a fourth Cup this year.