Blackhawks Getting Depth With Hinostroza’s Triumphant Return

The Chicago Blackhawks started their trade deadline moves early. Although the deadline is April 12, general manager Stan Bowman decided to get the party started on April 2. The Blackhawks made a trade with the Florida Panthers to re-acquire 27-year-old forward Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for forward Brad Morrison. It’s not a big move by any means, but it is having a solid impact on the team.

Background

Hinostroza was considered to be a “hidden gem” prospect when Bowman selected him in the sixth round of the NHL draft in 2012. As an Illinois native, there was a hometown connection that made him an instant fan favorite. When he made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks in 2015, he was noted as someone who could provide depth on the third and fourth lines. The skill set that he is most known for is his speed and pesky style of play. Bowman, then-head coach Joel Quenneville and company liked what he brought to the team during his four-year tenure. In that time span, he had 13 goals, 28 assists, 41 points and was a plus-4 in 108 games. They rewarded him with a two-year contract in June 2018.

Hinostroza was traded to the Arizona Coyotes less than a month later as part of the Marian Hossa deal. He was the asset that they had to give up in order to unload Hossa’s contract. He ended up showing big potential with the Coyotes. It was the same potential that made him a hard player to part with at the time. During the 2018-19 season in the desert, he totaled a career-high 16 goals, 23 assists, and 39 points in 72 games.

He also netted his first career hat trick that season. He seemed to hit a sophomore slump the following year. He tallied five goals, 17 assists, and 22 points in 68 games in 2019-20. Because of the slump, the Yotes decided to let him go in free agency and he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Panthers in October 2020. However, that ended up being a huge mismatch. He only played in nine games and tallied zero points.

The Blackhawks decided to give him a fresh start with a chance to prove that he is the same player that they saw blossom in Arizona.

Hello, Old Friend

There was reason to be skeptical about the trade. Hinostroza hadn’t shown a whole lot since his breakout season. However, the trade was low-risk. Morrison, the prospect that the Blackhawks gave up for him, has bounced around from the ECHL and the AHL level and was never going to make the team. Hinostroza is also going to be a free agent after this season, so if he doesn’t pan out, then it’s no harm, no foul on the Blackhawks’ part.

On the flip side of the trade, it makes sense. Besides it being low-risk, a lot of the players that are currently on the Hawks’ third and fourth lines are likely just placeholders. Players like Carl Soderberg, Mattias Janmark, and Matthew Highmore are not considered to be in the team’s long-term plans. This is Hinostroza’s chance to rejuvenate his career and also prove that he could have a place with this team going forward.

Vinnie Hinostroza Chicago Blackhawks Andrej Sekera Dallas Stars
Vinnie Hinostroza, Chicago Blackhawks and Andrej Sekera, Dallas Stars (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

Head coach Jeremy Colliton is familiar with Hinostroza. He was the head coach of the the Blackhawks’ affiliate team, the Rockford IceHogs, in 2017-18 while Hinostroza was there. But that familiarity wasn’t going to come with any perks. Colliton had mentioned that he wasn’t going to block any of the rookies’ playing time and that Hinostroza had to earn what he gets here. (from ‘Blackhawks notebook: Vinnie Hinostroza will get opportunity to contribute after quarantine’ – Chicago Sun-Times – 04/03/2021)

With facing adversity, Hinostroza has a lot to prove. It’s usually during times like these, when players’ backs are against the wall, that they play their best. That is exactly what he showed during his first game back with the Blackhawks against the Dallas Stars on April 6. He was on the third line with Dominik Kubalik and Philipp Kurashev. He had three hits, three shot attempts, and an assist on Kubalik’s goal to give Chicago a 2-0 lead in the second period. During the second game of the Stars’ series on April 8, it was déjà vu. He assisted on another Kubalik goal to tie the game at 1-1 in the first period. Look at that beautiful pass!

Something else to note is that during the second game, the Kubalik-Kurashev-Hinostroza line led the team in shot attempts (14-5), shots on goal (11-5), scoring chances (9-2), and high-danger chances (3-1). This line just fits right. Because of Hinostroza’s speed, he can out-skate a lot of opponents to make a play. That combined with Kurashev’s versatile skill set, and Kubalik’s offensive ability, it’s lethal. It may not look the most exciting on paper, but if it works, don’t fix what’s not broken. For a team that only has four wins in their last 12 games, you have to lean onto any positives.

Moving Forward

Hinostroza is going to decide his own fate here in Chicago. Although he has only played in two games for the Blackhawks this season, he has shown why trading for him was important. He has provided a skill set that is needed with his speed and playmaking ability. He also provides solid depth that the team needs in the lineup. We don’t know how this story will play out, but you couldn’t ask for a better start. One thing that is certain is that he is making it hard for Colliton to take him out of the lineup. It looks like his role may even be expanded.

Colliton experimented with putting him on the team’s power-play unit during practice before they left for their five-game road trip on April 9. Their power play is struggling big time, having scored one power-play goal out of their last 20 opportunities. If he makes an appearance with the special teams, maybe his newfound confidence will give them the spark it needs.

Whatever his role may be, hopefully Hinostroza will continue to build his case for why Bowman should re-sign him this offseason. His record of bringing back former players has never worked out up to this point. But there is a first for everything. After all, who doesn’t love a good comeback story?

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