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One Minute Remaining: On-The-Job Training

Wednesday, 04.02.2008 / 2:00 PM / Features
By Harvey Wittenberg  - Web Contributor
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One Minute Remaining: On-The-Job Training

The Blackhawks are leading the NHL in several categories, and although they may not lead to a Stanley Cup this season, it is a positive sign for the future.

It's often said that there is no substitute for experience but there's nothing like on-the-job training, which is what the young Hawks have been going through. Most of the season Chicago has ranked either first, second or third when it comes to starting the youngest roster in the NHL. The Hawks have usually averaged between 26.5 and 26.9 years of age while Detroit has maintained the oldest average age of 32.

The Hawks are leading the league in dressing the most rookies with 17. In fact, when you look at the roster at the start of the schedule, there were seven other Hawks who had fewer than two full seasons under their belts in the NHL but didn't qualify as rookies.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were just starting their third seasons, but played fewer than 164 games. Also in that category are Rene Bourque, James Wisniewski, Cam Barker, Dustin Byfuglien and David Koci. Add in newcomers Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager, who have also have fewer than two seasons of experience.

With the move of the team's AHL affiliate from Norfolk to nearby Rockford this season, 20 players have played for both the Hawks and the IceHogs. Another statistic that ranks the team No. 1 in the NHL is that 45 different players have dressed for the Hawks this season.

Patrick Sharp, the Hawks' top goal scorer since Eric Daze's 38 tallies in 2001-02, is really in his third full season. The 26 year-old began the campaign with 196 NHL games under his belt after seeing brief action in parts of two seasons with Philadelphia.

A big reason the Hawks' goal production has jumped up this year, besides Sharp's 30+, is due to the production from defensemen. While Byfuglien has moved from the blue line to forward, Keith and Seabrook have racked up the most goals by a defender since 2004 when Bryan Berard totaled 13. Last season, the high mark for a Hawk defenseman was only five.

I've mentioned in past columns how key injuries the past few seasons have affected the team's momentum. This is not an excuse because all teams have injuries. However, when your top scorer, Martin Havlat, and your No. 1 goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, go down, it's almost impossible to replace that kind of talent.

Then throw in one of the league's top rookie scorers, Jonathan Toews, plus Wisniewski, Bourque, Brent Sopel, and Kevyn Adams, and it's no wonder that last year's 345 total of player games lost to injuries is being exceeded this season.

While maybe not achieving all the goals that coach Denis Savard set his sights on this season, the Hawks are moving in the right direction with its on-job-training for its youngsters!

Harvey Wittenberg served as the Blackhawks' Public Address Announcer from 1961 to 2001 and is the author of "Tales from the Chicago Blackhawks." Contact him at hwittenberg@chicagoblackhawks.com.