Jonathan Toews didn’t pay the compliment expecting a receipt.
The Blackhawks captain praised teammate Vinnie Hinostroza because of Hinostroza’s ability to jell with Toews and Brandon Saad on the top line.
“Vinnie’s been complementing the two of us really well,” Toews said. “He’s been making plays. The three of us are working well together. We’re feeling pretty confident now.”
Auditions for the third spot on the top line have continued since the struggling Richard Panik was removed. The latest experiment began two games ago, when coach Joel Quenneville penciled in Hinostroza before the Hawks played the Rangers.
He responded by scoring his second goal of the season in a 5-2 win over the Rangers. His third goal followed in the next game, a 5-4 loss to the Golden Knights on Friday. Hinostroza added two assists to his ledger that game.
Toews, who scored for the third straight game Friday after going six without so much as a point, wasn’t done heaping praise on Hinostroza.
“He’s speedy, but he seems to know where to be at all the right times,” Toews said. “He’s so shifty with the puck. He and (Alex) DeBrincat are similar in that way — they can turn on a dime and make plays. He’s also got a great shot, so hopefully we can get him the puck, give him a chance to finish one or two.”
A little more than a week ago, he was a healthy scratch for the second time in two games.
He knows he’s still trying to prove himself. He knows he doesn’t want to return to the AHL.
He also firmly believes, like his teammates and his coach, in himself. He said he was put on the top line for a reason. He said playing on Toews’ line for a spell last season hasn’t hurt.
But, more than anything, he has said time and again his mind has been what has mattered most.
“I’m a different player than I was last year,” Hinostroza said. “Last year I was kind of shy and scared out there. This year I’m a lot more confident. It’s not too hard when you can go out there with one of the best players in the world (Toews). It’s been easy to step in.”
Quenneville labeled Hinostroza’s play “OK” when he first was called up but said moving him from center to right wing has been a big part of him being better than OK of late.
“He’s taking advantage of working hard and adding … energy, speed and quickness,” Quenneville said. “Getting on that top line, I commend him on how well he’s done.”
And there’s nowhere else Hinostroza, the kid who grew up in Chicago a Blackhawks fan watching Toews on TV, would rather be.
“I wasn’t happy going (to Rockford), but I made the best of it,” he said.
And while he’s happy to be here, his plan of making the best of it remains the same.