I know, it isn’t like me to try and find the positives in anything. It’s not what you’re used to after 10 years of being here, if you’ve been here that long (and God help you if you have). But we haven’t been in this position before, so it’s healthy to try and figure out why we’re going to even bother next year (and some of you won’t, and in some ways I envy you).
The Hawks are going to have some decisions to make this summer, which should make for a really interesting one. But before they make those choices, they have to figure out what they have here first. So at the forwards, the Hawks have to decide what Jonathan Toews is and will be. The general consensus is that he’s done as a #1 center, given his scoring problems the past couple years. I’m not so sure about that, given what the underlying numbers say.
But let’s just give into that for the sake of this. Say Jonathan Toews is a #2 center now. That means the Hawks have to find another #1 center, because you can’t really win without one. None of the recent Cup winners have gone without an ace, and it’s hard to even identify teams that got to a Final. Last year’s Preds, because Johansen was hurt, but he got them most of the way there when he played like one. The Rangers of ’14? The Devils of ’12? And really, that’s about it.
The Hawks don’t have one in the system, a product of drafting 25 or above for so long. The only hope is one Nick Schmaltz, who has had a better year mostly playing center than I thought he would. He’s going to finish with 50-60 points at just 21, and at center which isn’t easy to learn. But what’s the precedent for centers who do that? Luckily, thanks to HockeyReference.com, we can find out.
So here’s the list of centers who had 50-60 points in their age 21 season the past 12 seasons: Ryan Strome, Adam Henrique, Derek Stepan, Bo Horvat, Sasha Barkov, Nathan MacKinnon, Jack Eichel, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brayden Point, Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Getzlaf, Logan Couture, Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
For the most part, that’s an encouraging list. There are some names that give you pause of course. Ryan Strome is one, though he’s been on a wing for years now. Bouchard never did much after concussion problems. But other than that, the minimum here is a very solid #2 center.
Does that mean Schmaltz could be the #1 one day? Hard to say. Couture has never had to do it but easily could have. Getzlaf is but that wasn’t his rookie year. Same goes for Eichel and MacKinnon. So that might not be the road for Nick At Nite.
We can safely say that Schmaltz can be a #2 center on a good team. But that doesn’t solve your #1 center problem. Can the Hawks live again with like, three #2 centers? It’s hard to think of anyone who has done it. That’s the most likely trajectory for Schmaltz.
It’s funny, for so long the problem the Hawks had was no #2 center behind Toews when Sharp decided he didn’t want to play center anymore. And now it appears they might have too many.