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When Mike Hardman was weighing his options before deciding which NHL team to sign with, two things stood out about Chicago.
The first is that the Blackhawks were one of the first teams he met with and had closely followed his development throughout college. That made an impression on him.
The second, and perhaps more important, is the Blackhawks made it clear going into the 2020-21 season that they were "committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster." He wanted to be part of it.
"They've always been there and I just thought it was a good fit for me," Hardman said in April after signing his entry-level contract. "It’s a young team and they're preparing for the future. ... I think it was a perfect situation, just looking at the depth of the organization and how they’re building for the future here. But also, it’s a storied franchise, Original Six team, so it was hard to pass up on."
Signing with the Blackhawks served as a great opportunity for Hardman to get into the lineup right away and carve out a role. And he's doing exactly.
On Tuesday, Hardman was rewarded for his efforts by becoming the seventh Blackhawk rookie to score his first career NHL goal this season. It was also his first career point.
"It was pretty surreal," Hardman said following a 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. "It was a great play by [Patrick Kane] on the breakout and then [MacKenzie Entwistle] using his speed going wide and just shooting the puck off the pad and I was just lucky to be there and tap it in. It was an awesome feeling."
It's a moment Hardman will never forget, especially given a future Hall of Famer in Kane registered a secondary assist on the play.
"He was there in the celebration, too," Hardman said. "He was great about it too, saying congrats, and just getting me fired up in the locker room after. It was awesome. He’s a guy I've watched my whole life play and for him to record an assist on it, it was pretty cool."
Hardman is bringing an element up front that the Blackhawks are lacking, and that's physicality and going to the dirty areas. He has 20 hits through five games and is averaging 22.8 hits per 60 minutes. For reference, Chicago's hits leader Nikita Zadorov is averaging 10.5.
"He’s been excellent for us," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I like a lot of what he brings. He’s really physical, playing with determination every shift he gets. He takes advantage of the opportunity and he’s done a nice job for us."
Less than two months ago, Hardman was playing on one of the top lines in college for Boston College and didn't know where his future would take him at the NHL level. Fast forward to now and he's quietly making a name for himself in a fourth-line role for the Blackhawks.
"It’s a credit to him," Colliton said. "We’re crying for a little more physical, straight-ahead, hard-to-play-against element to our team. We need more of that, to compete with teams like this. Some size and some physicality and some killer instinct to make contact and get stops and create loose pucks and do more off the forecheck. He’s taking advantage of his opportunity."
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