It sounds strange, as bad as the Hawks were at times. The thing was, they were rarely boring. And almost all of that came down to their young forwards who burst onto the scene. And perhaps leading that charge was Nick Schmaltz, who was finally left alone to play center (at least most of the season) and proved that’s where he should have been all along. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t incessant bitching about his habit of not shooting enough, but clearly the Hawks have a definite #2 NHL center on their hands, perhaps their best one since before Patrick Sharp decided he was too good or too handsome or too both to play there anymore.
78 games, 21 goals, 31 assists, 52 points, +1, 18 PIM
50.3 CF%, -2.54 CF% rel, 48.8 xGF%, -1.23 xGF% rel, 64.2 ZSR (zone-start ratio)
Certainly, the entertainment factor with Schmaltz is high. And it’s easy to overestimate his contributions by a touch because he’s so easy to notice. The Hawks might not have had a player faster with the puck consistently than Schmaltz, and his vision opened up a lot of things for his wingers. Stalberg may have been faster but wasn’t nearly as shifty, and neither was Sharp in his heyday. Whether you’re in the arena or just watching at home you know when Schmaltz is on the puck, and it’s easy to think he’s dominating games that way, or at least more is happening than actually is.
Again, you have to look at Schmaltz’s numbers closely because mostly they were accumulated with Patrick Kane, which helps. It also skews how you view his possession numbers. Schmaltz, or at least the Hawks when Schmaltz was out there, outscored what his possession and chance-numbers suggested they should. The thing is this tends to happen with Kane on the ice for years, as he’s never been a great possession player but is so lethal that he’ll usually cash in or set up teammates to do so more than the percentages suggest. Whether Schmaltz can carry this out away from Kane, should this come up at some point next season, remains a question.
There were obviously flaws to Schmaltz’s game. He’s not very big, which led to him getting beaten down low in his own zone a lot and thus getting pinned in there or shifts at a time. This was clearly Q’s main concern, either starting him in the offensive zone as much as possible or discarding him to wing at times as well. As we know, Q doesn’t really like d-men or centers that don’t do everything, and Schmaltz struggles with the own-zone portion of the game. But in an ideal world, the Hawks would have a #1 and #3 centers who could take most of that responsibility, leaving Schmaltz to start a majority of times in the offensive zone. It’s certainly a model other teams have used. So Schmaltz’s future hinges a bit on any Toews revival and/or future acquisitions and whether or not EggShell is anything.
A lot was made of Schmaltz’s pass-happy ways, though he still managed 21 goals which you’d take from a #2 center pretty much every season. The number that jumps out at you is that he shot 17.8% to get there. Given the amount of chances he was getting for himself (0.51 ixGF/60) and what he ended up scoring (0.91 iGF/60) he is going to have to get more chances to get to 20+ goals again because it’s not likely he’s gong to maintain a near 18% shooting-percentage. His rookie year saw one of half that, so let’s split the difference and say he can settle in to a 12-13% shooter.
Outlook: It would be peachy keen if Schmaltz could ascend to a true #1 center and give Toews something of a break. And the list of centers the past decade or so who put up 50+ point seasons at 21 is encouraging (here’s a look if you need). Still, it’s hard to look at Schmaltz’s size and skillset and think he won’t always need to be at least a little sheltered in terms of shifts and opposition. But being Robin to someone else’s Batman is hardly a bad role to be, and one a team needs to be successful. Yes, it counts on getting anything more from Toews, though that’s hardly an impossibility. Schmaltz will be in a contract year next season, so if he’s going to pop for ace numbers, now would be the time. But he can definitely count himself a piece.