There’s no tension between the three of them, no trash-talking or mind games. They were glad to see each other when prospects camp opened on Sunday, happily catching up after a couple of months off the ice. But you can be sure Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza and Tanner Kero will be keeping a wary eye on each other all week, just like they will when training camp opens in September.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Hinostroza said. “When somebody scores a goal, you say, ‘Good job.’ But then you try to go score a nicer goal or do something better.”
Andrew Shaw is in Montreal. Teuvo Teravainen is in Carolina. Dale Weise is in Philadelphia. Andrew Ladd is on Long Island. Tomas Fleischmann is unsigned. And the only NHL-level forward the Hawks have added since losing to St. Louis in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is veteran enforcer Jordin Tootoo, who’s hardly a lock to make the opening-night roster.
So there are NHL jobs to be had. And every scrimmage, every drill, every single shot is a chance to nudge ahead in the eyes of the Blackhawks front office and coaching staff.
There are other intriguing prospects who will get every opportunity to crack the NHL roster, most notably prolific college standouts Nick Schmaltz (North Dakota) and Tyler Motte (Michigan). But Hartman, Hinostroza and Kero (and Kyle Baun, who’s not at prospects camp because he’s no longer on an entry-level contract) each played in the NHL last season. That gives them a head start in what’s going to be a tightly contested race to Oct. 12.
“That’s your goal going into it, and there’s a lot of guys chomping at the bit for that,” Kero said. “So you’ve got to do everything you can to put yourself in that spot. You’re aware of [the roster math], but you don’t overthink it. You’ve still go to go into training camp with the same thought — just do your best and show you can play at that level.”
All three have done so, and each has his own upside. Hartman self-identifies as a Shaw-type player, and the Hawks have a Shaw-type void to fill — a gritty player who can play just about anywhere and an do the dirty work around the net. He played five games in 2014-15 and three last season.
Hinostroza — similarly undersized and scrappy — played seven games with the Hawks last season, and is the most productive of the three, with 18 goals and 33 assists in 66 games with the Rockford IceHogs last season. And Kero has the most NHL experience, playing 17 games with the Hawks last season and proving himself capable of killing penalties, which gives him a significant edge, particularly for a defensive-minded coach such as Joel Quenneville.
“I think it helps, yeah,” Kero said. “You want to be versatile and able to play whatever role they want. To show I can play penalty kill and do more defensive stuff definitely helps me.”
The gap between the three NHL-tested Hawks is minimal, but the gap between them and the rest of the prospects at camp — some just drafted two weeks ago, some unaffiliated, nearly all years from even sniffing the NHL — is massive.
This is Hinostroza’s fifth prospect camp, after all. So he — and a few others — hope it’s the last time he’s even considered a “prospect.”
“I think I’m an NHL player,” Hartman said. “But at the same time, I’m still a prospect and I’m not on the team fully yet. There’s spots to be had. I’m looking to do that.”