Chicago Blackhawks 2021 season review: MacKenzie Entwistle, Mike Hardman reports, updates, screenings
The Blackhawks will have many decisions to make this offseason, especially when it comes to choosing which players to keep from their bottom-six forward surplus. They have a veteran option with players like David Kampf, Ryan Carpenter, Brett Connolly and Vinnie Hinostroza (if he has resigned) and they have younger possibilities with Brandon Hagel, Adam Gaudette and Philipp Kurashev.
Everyone in this group has spent most of the season playing in the NHL, but others haven’t been so lucky. Let’s take a look at a few young forwards who only had one cup of coffee in the big show: MacKenzie Entwistle and Mike hardman.
After being drafted in the third round (69th overall) by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2017 NHL Draft, Entwistle’s development has continued to progress. In his last two seasons in the OHL his production took off and his playoff performance really shone.
- 2017-18: 38 points (13G, 25A) in 49 regular season games and 17 points (10G, 7A) in 21 playoff games.
- 2018-19: 57 points (30G, 27A) in 29 regular season games and 21 points (7G, 14A) in 24 playoff games.
In addition to his offense, Entwistle was presented as a solid two-way player with forward power abilities with some positional versatility – he played center and wing in the juniors. It’s easy to see why Blackhawks fans found him attractive after his 2018 acquisition in the trade that sent Marian Hossa’s contract to the Coyotes.
However, the transition to professional hockey was not particularly smooth and Entwistle struggled with the IceHogs at first. He eventually found his place and finished second for the rookie team with 26 points (11G, 15A) in 56 AHL games. These are solid numbers but not too impressive, which could explain why his NHL equivalence (NHLe in the graph above) dipped slightly in D3 (three years after his draft) in the graph above. Entwistle was learning to effectively use his size and strength to his advantage and to be strong on the puck when needed. He thrived on the IceHogs’ penalty kill thanks to his good positioning and active stick in the passing lanes.
This graph also doesn’t include the 2021 season, when Entwistle was primarily at Rockford to continue honing his skills at a pro level. He had 12 points (4Gs, 8A) in 22 AHL games or 0.56 points per game, a marked improvement from his 0.46 PPG the previous season, but in half the sample. His shot is correct but he did not take enough advantage of it. Entwistle’s biggest attribute is his hockey IQ, playing a smart game with or without the puck. He was good at rolling the puck and / or holding on while fighting in front of the net.
Entwistle’s sample size in the NHL is obviously too small to determine if his skills will translate to this level, but there were some bright spots to note. He showed flashes of offensive skills – mostly in transition – and finished with 2 points (1G, 1A) in five NHL games. Entwistle had great energy while being responsible defensively, often going for the safe play. At 6-foot-3, Entwistle’s reach was noticeable, especially along the boards where he could clear pucks in scrums. He’s acted like a type of power striker in the lower levels, but his frame is light for his size at just 183 pounds, so it’s not certain that he’ll achieve the same success without adding more muscle.
Entwistle has been working on his skating recently and it’s been quite noticeable during his short stint in the NHL, especially his straight line speed. He was never called slow, but his first steps and acceleration weren’t particularly impressive either, which is why it was surprising how fast he looked with the Blackhawks. Considering how quickly the NHL has grown, improved speed can hopefully help Entwistle secure a lasting position with the Blackhawks sooner rather than later.
While Entwistle has been viewed as a Marcus Kruger-like fourth-row and shorthanded specialist, his improvement in skating and advancements on offense suggest he might be a third-row player instead. Prior to the start of this season, Blackhawks assistant general manager Ryan Stewart had discussed some of Entwistle’s attributes that could see him playing on the lines:
âHe’s got a much more offensive touch than what people initially credited him with when he was billed as that tough, defensive center. He can play on the wing. He’s good around the net. He has a good exit. He wants the puck. He wants to be a difference maker.
Ultimately, Entwistle is probably ready for an extended look in the NHL next season. Competition will be fierce due to the large number of attackers, but his defensive prowess and versatility should work in his favor to give him the necessary advantage.
Although he played well in his first season of draft eligibility, Hardman was overlooked and was not drafted, likely due to the lack of awareness of his high school program. Over the next several years, Hardman had a tough season in the USHL, which affected his draft supply. After a âgoodâ season in the BCHL, it was no surprise that he was yet to be drafted. Luckily for him, Hardman took the college route and his hockey career finally took a positive turn.
Prior to signing as a free agent with the Blackhawks, Hardman had just completed his second season at Boston College. In British Columbia, Hardman skated on one of the top lines in college hockey, playing primarily with 2019 first-round picks Alex Newhook (Colorado) and Matthew Boldy (Minnesota). The trio had been formed the year before to be dubbed the âFreshman Lineâ. While Hardman was older and didn’t have the resumes of others, he was essential to the success of this line over both seasons.
- 2019-20: 25 points (12 G, 13 A) in 34 games
- 2020-21: 19 points (10G, 9A) in 24 games and an assist in a playoff game
Although Hardman spent a little less time with Newhook and Boldy in his second season in the NCAA, his output has remained constant, improving slightly from 0.74 to 0.79 points per game. No matter who his teammates were, he tended to be the player who did the dirty work of setting up the offense by fighting the board, collecting the puck and acting as a presence in front of the net. Hardman was subject to turnover during the transition, but has improved year over year in that regard. He had a decent shot but tended to score mostly close shovels and often rebound. Overall, Hardman’s physique lent itself to a compliment to the high-end skills of his teammates.
Hardman’s sample in the NHL was also very small, but the blue collar mentality that was seen in his game in the NCAA was once again visible. He finished with 3 points (1G, 2A) in eight NHL games, with two of those points coming from passing / shooting in high-risk areas of the ice. The third came after helping to win a board battle to pounce another player. His nose for the net, his ability to fail forward and his willingness to engage along the boards seemed to translate decently into the NHL. His passing was also solid – more effective than creative – although it wasn’t his strong suit in college.
At 6-2, 205 pounds, he certainly used his height to physically assert himself as intended, racking up seven hits in his first NHL game alone. He’ll have to work on his timing though, as smart hitting is essential in the NHL today, especially for a player like Hardman who isn’t the fastest. When he focused on hitting efficiency rather than power, Hardman’s hitting and checking was a big plus.
There’s a lot to like about Hardman’s game: it’s a simple, physical style that worked well along the boards and in front of the net. But the transition from the NCAA to the NHL can be tough: What worked physically against young players won’t work against veterans of the NHL. Athletic’s Corey Pronman summed up Hardman’s style of play simply:
âHe has fast hands, can make plays and score in difficult areas. It’s not a dynamic type of skill, but it does have some good flashes. Hardman isn’t the fastest, though, which could hold him back from the NHL.
So, while it is not yet known whether Hardman has the skating and consistency to play in the NHL, it is likely that he would play the role of a body checker on an offensive third line – again complementary to the more skilled players – or on a grinding, fourth row energy.