When a team is rebuilding as the Chicago Blackhawks are, it’s easy to become laser-focused on the generational draft talent that awaits in the upcoming draft. I know I’m guilty of being on “Bedard Watch” all the time. Sometimes, that focus can distract us from what’s happening with players already in the system.
Forward Cole Guttman is a great example.
Before being ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury on Monday, Guttman had made an impressive impact in his short time with the Blackhawks. In his 14 games with Chicago since his February 15 debut, he had four goals and two assists. Maybe six points don’t look impressive on paper, but that’s a 20.5 goal and 32-point pace over 82 games. Before his promotion, Guttman registered 30 points in 39 games with Rockford. This is from a player who has been nursing his injury since November … an injury so severe he has decided to shut down his season and get surgery.
Statistics aside, what impressed me most about Guttman’s stint in Chicago was his hockey awareness. He doesn’t have blazing speed. At 5-foot-9, no one would describe him as a power forward. His shot won’t get him any comparisons to Brett Hull, but there’s something to be said for a player who has a knack for finding the right place to be at the right time.
“We knew he was a smart hockey player,” Richardson said.
Guttman, who the Blackhawks signed in August 2022 after leading his University of Denver Pioneers to their record ninth National Championship, was a sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lighting in the 2017 NHL Draft. After failing to get an opportunity with Tampa Bay, he decided to sign with Chicago, likely knowing he’d get an opportunity sooner than later.
As I wrote about for last week’s Blackhawks Beat, it may seem strange to see a player choose a team with less of a chance of winning, but there’s something to be said for an opportunity. That’s what Guttman, and others, have gotten playing for the Blackhawks this season.
This decision to end his season sheds some clarity on why Guttman wasn’t made playoff eligible for the Rockford Ice Hogs at the trade deadline. The league requires teams to “send down” any player they want to be eligible on trade deadline day. It’s typically just a paper transaction, but eyebrows were raised when Guttman’s name wasn’t on that list. Now it’s clear that the playoffs were never in the cards for the 23-year-old rookie.
“He wanted to keep playing, but the decision was the right thing to do it now, to get ready for next year,” head coach Luke Richardson said. “He has shown he can play here.”
He has indeed, and while the CHGO Blackhawks Crew continues to project next year’s roster, all three of us have Guttman penciled in the lineup … maybe even centering Connor Bedard.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, March 14 vs Boston Bruins
7:30 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
Bottom line, the Bruins are the best team in hockey. When Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci decided to come back for one more bite at the apple, there were big expectations. The Bruins have blown those expectations out of the water. On Saturday, the B’s became the fastest team in NHL history to reach 50 wins. It only took 64 games. On March 3, they became the fastest team in NHL history to reach 100 points. Whether or not their regular season success translates to another Stanley Cup remains to be seen. The Eastern Conference is absolutely loaded with great teams and Cup contenders, which makes the Bruins’ feat even more impressive.
Thursday, March 16 @ Nashville Predators
7:00 pm on ESPN+ / Hulu & WGN Radio
On the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast, we often use the Nashville Predators as the team you DON’T want to be. Never rebuilding … never fully going for it …'”halving” it to keep fans invested and to maintain playoff revenue. With this method of managing a hockey team, the Stanley Cup is never actually a realistic outcome. Sure, you might get lucky and win a round or two, but it never ends in hockey’s ultimate prize. Well, it seems like the Preds have started to lean toward a rebuild. Before this year’s deadline, they traded Tanner Jeannot (for a damned haul), Nino Niederreiter, Mattias Ekholm, and Mikael Granlund. They still have some expensive veterans like Roman Josi, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Ryan McDonough signed long-term, but it’s a start. With David Poile stepping down after running the Preds since their inception, they’re long overdue for a new approach and a fresh set of eyes. His replacement, Barry Trotz, has his work cut out for him, but we know the ownership group in Nashville is patient.
Saturday, March 19 @ Arizona Coyotes
9:30 pm on NBC Sports Chicago Plus & WGN Radio
Tank Off! The Coyotes are currently sixth in the #TankStandings, and are probably too talented to finish with the league’s worst record, thus securing themselves the best odds at Bedard. Conspiracy theorists will suggest that Gary Bettman is going to rig the draft to help his beloved, but ever-floundering, Coyotes, but who believes in that stuff? I actually think the Coyotes are fun to watch and will be even more fun next year when their top prospect Logan Cooley arrives. Old friend Nick Schmaltz is having a very solid season, with 46 points in 50 games. Proof that even higher-end prospects don’t find their stride right away. At age 27, he’s finally been able to put together impressive back-to-back scoring seasons. Health has played a big role in his delayed development, but it looks like Schmaltz has finally become the player he was expected to become.