In a Blackhawks’ preseason opener of youngsters, Nick Schmaltz shines

COLUMBUS, Ohio. – As expected, it wasn’t a debut that featured a lineup of familiar faces.

It’s the first game of a six-contest preseason. It preceedes an 84-game campaign that goes from October through April. Joel Quenneville, of anyone, knows the importance of pacing your players in a long NHL season.

But one of the few regulars from the 2017-2018 season that took the ice at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night showed what kind of an impact he could make in his second year with the franchise.

Nick Schmaltz assisted on the first goal of the night and added a tally of his own in the third period as the Blackhawks enjoyed a mostly positive 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

“It’s good to get the first one out of the way and I thought we played really well tonight,” said Schmaltz to ChicagoBlackhawks.com. “We had a lot of jump and we were fortunate to score a couple of goals there. We were pretty good tonight, I thought.”

Schmaltz showed his prowess in the opening period when he made a power play count, feeding defenseman Cody Fransen for the first of five Blackhawks’ goals on the night. Later in the game, the centerman got his own as she skated down ice and beat the goalie with a wrist shot for his first goal of the contest.

“He’s got more speed to his game. Looks like he’s stronger in the puck area,” said Quenneville of Schmaltz.  “He wants the puck, has the puck more and the deception with his speed and his evasiveness, laterally-moving can back people off.”

Its those talents that have opened up the possibility of a unique opportunity: The pair with Blackhawks star winger Patrick Kane on a line. Quenneville has been working Schmaltz with the former MVP in a shake-up of the successful Artem Anisimov-Kane-Artemi Panarin line from the last two seasons.

The center is a few weeks from knowing if that will happen for sure, but for the moment Schmaltz is just looking to grow his game before the start of his second season.

“You just want to keep building every day,” said Schmaltz. “When you score a goal or make a nice play, you get a little confidence from that. Just keep getting better every day and hopefully everybody can keep improving.”

Tuesday night certainly helped that cause.