Six rookies cracked the Blackhawks’ Opening Day lineup last year as part of a transition to infuse more youth into a roster with an aging core, and Vinnie Hinostroza was one of them.
But it was a roller coaster campaign for the Bartlett native.
He was an every day player during the first half of the season, appearing in 48 games and compiling six goals and eight assists, before getting assigned to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs for the rest of the year — aside from the regular season finale — to fine-tune his game and gain more confidence.
To help advanced that and search for consistency, Hinostroza has been training with Patrick Kane — and Ryan Hartman — this summer in Chicago, working on edge work and skating drills.
“Skating with Kaner every day, it’s unbelievable to watch what he does,” Hinostroza said Saturday at the Chicago Hockey Charity Classic in Geneva. “We skate with [Prodigy Hockey skills coach] Brian Keane, and he really works on the small details. Going into the season, not only are we working on strength — that was my main focus last year — but also the little tiny on-ice thing like the edges and stuff like that.
“I think I’m getting a lot stronger, trying to do the right things, working out with Kaner and working out with these older guys. It’s nice to be in the gym and on the ice every day.”
There’s an extra motivation for Hinostroza as well this offseason with the way the Blackhawks’ playoff run ended in a four-game sweep to the Nashville Predators. The 23-year-old winger played in only one of those four tilts, logging just 6:48 of ice time in a 5-0 Game 2 home loss.
Does that sort of exit sit with a player and team all summer or does it get tossed in the trash can as quickly as possible?
“It’s definitely motivating,” Hinostroza said. “Who wants to lose that early when you’ve got such a great group? I think everyone was really focused going into the summer. Once workouts started I think everyone forgot it, but in the back of their mind it’s still there cause you don’t want to happen again.”
The 2017-18 season is an important one for Hinostroza. He’s set to become a restricted free agent at the end of it, and he is not only looking to secure a full-time roster spot but prove to management that he’s worth keeping around beyond that.
It won’t get any easier with the Blackhawks adding Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels into an already crowded mix to compete for a bottom-six role.
But that’s a challenge Hinostroza is looking to tackle head-on.
“I obviously just want to come in with confidence and try to prove myself,” he said. “I feel like I wasn’t always myself last year, I was up and down there. I just want to come in and play my game as hard as I can every day.”