Vince Hinostroza Cannot Be Ignored Much Longer


It’s no secret that the Chicago Blackhawks coming into this season had some deficiencies on both ends of the ice. So far through a month and a half of the season, those deficiencies have been pretty consistent. Defensive depth has been an issue with most of Chicago’s defensemen playing under-par and the offense, outside of the first night of the season, has had troubles finding consistency. With the Blackhawks performing under the standards that have been set for the better part of a decade, what could they do to turn around these issues?

The first option was to fire up the Joel Quenneville line-blender and boy did they ever. After the first dozen games of the season, the forward lines and defensive pairings seemed to be different in some way, shape, or form every night. While it took a handful of games, Quenneville and the Blackhawks may have found a stop-gap in the sub-par production for now. There’s still a need, though, for one aspect missing from the Blackhawks arsenal: Speed.

Chicago has the players to be successful, that’s without question. But there seems to be one thing that consistently seems to be missing on a nightly basis from the team, speed with the puck. While Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz provide good movement around the ice, outside of them there isn’t another option to wheel and get the offense moving. Duncan Keith from the back-end doesn’t have the same speed as maybe two seasons ago, and although small and shifty, rookie Alex DeBrincat isn’t a straight-line speed player.

Enter Vince Hinostroza.

Hinostroza was the final player on the cut-line when the Blackhawks broke training camp in the beginning of October. When it came down to it, the Blackhawks organization felt it a better fit to give DeBrincat a shot early in the season to see what he had to offer over Hinostroza. Since then, Hinostroza has skated in 17 games for the Rockford IceHogs this season and has tallied 17 points (8G, 9A) over that time. Hinostroza leads the team in points, goals, and powerplay points and has been the catalyst in which the IceHogs’ offense runs. Night after night, Hinostroza looks to be the fastest skater on the ice in any given game and is far and away the best skater on the IceHogs roster this season.

With his production level where it is and passing the good ol’ eye test on a nightly basis, it becomes a no-brainer that the Blackhawks need a player at the caliber of Hinostroza on their roster.

Where Does Hinostroza Fit?

The problem then becomes, where does he fit into the roster?

Here are the current Blackhawks forward lines heading into their Wednesday night game against the Tampa Bay Lightning (a team that knows speed):

Looking at the construction of these lines, it becomes more of a challenge to slot Hinostroza into a regular spot.

While he has played center in the past, he’s best fit to play on the wing. With that in mind who could he bump?

Brandon Saad, no.
Richard Panik, no.
Nick Schmaltz, no.
Patrick Kane, uh nope.

Already through the top two lines and no surprise, there’s no room for him. Who else then?

Alex DeBrincat
Patrick Sharp
John Hayden
Lance Bouma

This is the grouping where Hinostroza could make his way into the lineup.

Prior to this last week, the easiest answer to the Blackhawks need for an offensive spark and to get Hinostroza into the lineup was to send down the waiver-exempt DeBrincat. Since then, DeBrincat has started a four-game points streak, including a three-point night against the Hurricanes. It still could be an option, but now it is more of a long shot to see DeBrincat and Hinostroza swap spots.

The only other waiver-exempt option out of this group of four is John Hayden. While Hayden hasn’t put up huge numbers, that is not his game at this point in his career. Still young, Hayden is a physical player with a bit of raw scoring touch and is a perfect fit for a third/fourth line checking role, something the Blackhawks and Joel Quenneville need in their lineup. Same goes for Lance Bouma, just without the scoring touch. Bouma plays a heavy game and at times has been one of the lone bright spots for the Blackhawks this season. It’s been that kind of year.

So come to believe it, Patrick Sharp ends up on the chopping block and the best candidate, right now, to watch some games from the press box and allow Hinostroza a shot in the NHL lineup. No he is not going to be sent to Rockford, but Sharp has not lived up to his billing since returning to the Blackhawks from the Dallas Stars. In 20 games this season, Sharp has tallied just four points (2G, 2A) and hasn’t looked as rejuvenated or in the best shape on the team as he was propped up to best coming into the season.

At times, the 35-year old Sharp has looked slow and hardly a shell of his former 30-goal scoring self. It may go against every fiber of his being, and Quenneville loves to give “his guys” the benefit of the doubt, but Q should give a very hard and unbiased look at just what Sharp is bringing to the table and compare it to what Hinostroza can offer in that third-line role. His job might depend on it.

How To Get Hinostroza To Chicago

Finally, without having a viable waiver-exempt option, how would the Blackhawks get Hinostroza to Chicago without losing someone through waivers?

Tanner Kero has been a healthy-scratch more often than not this season, and with the emergence of Tommy Wingels as the fourth-line center option and Ryan Hartman being shifted back into the middle of the third-line, Kero’s ice time may be hard to come by. But, he still has the skill set and NHL track record that some team could benefit from, so a waiver-wire move with Kero could be reasonably risky.

The other option on the table, when it comes to players on the outside looking in for the Blackhawks, is the eight defensemen that Chicago continues to carry and more specifically, Jordan Oesterle.

Oesterle has played in four games this season, three of which came in October, and has just one assist and is averaging under 14 minutes of ice time per game. Recently, the Blackhawks have been trusting new arrivals Jan Rutta and Cody Franson more and more, leaving Oesterle and Michal Kempny more often than not, in the press box. With the rotation of Kempny, Franson, and sometimes Connor Murphy being consistent, Oesterle just becomes a roster placeholder.

The Blackhawks were high on Oesterle coming into the season, but have not utilized him nearly at all this season. Four games is not a lot of tape for other teams to see what Oesterle brings to the table and with the Blackhawks having a less than stellar defensive group and still Oesterle cannot crack the lineup, makes it seem to the rest of the league that there is something missing from his game and wouldn’t be worth the squeeze on the waiver wire. Plus, Oesterle can only benefit from getting on the ice in Rockford and getting his game-legs back underneath him.

Unless the Blackhawks have something in the works involving Hinostroza, there really should be no reason he has not made his way into the NHL lineup by now. Until then, Hinostroza will have to just continue putting up highlight-reel worthy plays until the Blackhawks’ hand is forced to make a move.