Former Blackhawks 1st-round pick Ryan Hartman returns to Chicago looking like a new man — and having a career season — with the Minnesota Wild: ‘Things have been good’

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Minnesota Wild center Ryan Hartman is a former Chicago Blackhawks forward who calls West Dundee home, so he has had Friday’s matchup at the United Center marked on his calendar for months.

He needs a haircut.

“I got a guy there I get my haircuts from,” said Hartman, 27, who lives in Lincoln Park in the offseason.

He said he checks the schedule and makes his appointments immediately.

“It gets pretty long during the season,” Hartman said.

As he prepares to play the Hawks for the seventh time (and fifth in Chicago) on Friday at the United Center in the first half of a home-and-home series, it’s his play that’s raising eyebrows.

Hartman is third on the Wild with 30 points — one off his career high — and leads the team with a whopping plus-30 rating, which ranks second in the NHL.

He has racked up 16 goals and 14 assists in 35 games, which puts him on a pace for a career-high 37 goals. That would blow away his current best of 19 goals in 2016-17, when he played 76 games with the Hawks.

“Things have been good,” he said. “It’s been a good year as a team and as an individual.”

Since joining the Wild in 2019-20, Hartman has worked his way from up from fourth-liner to centering the top line this season with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello.

Hawks defenseman Seth Jones, who played with Hartman in the U.S. Hockey’s National Team Development program in 2010-11 and ‘11-12, said Hartman has been “one of their best players this season offensively.

“He plays with energy, plays hard and physical,” Jones said. “He’s always in front of our net, so I have to keep him out of there, our paint and causing havoc.

“He’s putting the puck in the net and making plays. He’s a dangerous player for them that we’ll have to keep our eye on.”

Hartman said he had a similar feel for the game in ‘16-17, his first full season in Chicago, when he put up 19 goals and 12 assists.

“Playing a lot of minutes, being used on the power play and the penalty kill, when you play those type of minutes, you feel the flow of the game, you’re involved, you’re making a difference — as opposed to playing seven to 10 minutes and you get the puck and it feels foreign on your stick.”

Hartman started off young showing a lot of promise, and certainly his arrival in Chicago as the hometown hero brought a lot of expectations, but he faced some setbacks before getting to the place he is now.

He and his father, Craig, talked about his upbringing and his journey.

‘You’ll never be Wayne Gretzky, but you can play like Mark Messier’

Craig, who works in the insurance investment industry, said Ryan hails from four generations of Blackhawks fans.

Dad play Division I soccer at the University of South Carolina, and Ryan was born in Hilton Head Island, S.C. But Craig thought Ryan would have more opportunities in the Chicago area then growing up in a resort town, so they moved back.

Make no mistake, they were a hockey family.

Ryan remembers his father building outdoor rinks and both parents taking turns driving 40 minutes each way at least twice a week to take him to practices and games.

While the Hartmans were dedicated to the Hawks, home games weren’t aired on TV for much of Ryan’s childhood — which included him attending Fremd High School in Palatine as a freshman — so their hockey menu would include other teams, such as the Edmonton Oilers.

And of course, when the Hawks started making the playoffs in the Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews era, the Hartmans focused in on their Stanley Cup runs.

But there was a lesson underneath the cheering.

“My message to my son was, ‘You’ll never be Patrick Kane — and Patrick Kane’s a freak of nature — but you can play like Jonathan Toews: play hard, play physical, work your ass off,’ ” Craig said.

“And it was the same with the Edmonton Oilers. Back in the day, you had Wayne Gretzy and Mark Messier. I said, ‘You’ll never be Wayne Gretzky, but you can play like Mark Messier. You can be a leader, you can be physical, you can work your ass off.’ That’s how you play the game.”

Craig said he made Ryan watch videos of Messier growing up and later Toews when he emerged as a star.

“I’d make him watch Jonathan Toews and say, ‘That’s how you play the game. You work every shift, you battle in the corners, you battle on the boards.’ ”

Jones remembers that kind of skater when he was in the national development program with Hartman.

“I played with him when I was at the U.S. program when I was 16, 17 years old, and at the World Juniors as well, and Russia. He’s always played with an edge.”

‘I think he was heartbroken’

The Hawks drafted Ryan Hartman with the 30th pick in 2013, but in February 2018, they they traded him to the Nashville Predators for Victor Ejdsell and two draft picks that became Nicolas Beaudin and Philipp Kurashev.

“A lot of kids, they grew up cheering for their team if they’re from Boston or New York or wherever,” Ryan said. “They grew up fans of those teams, and then when they get drafted that have to turn that off and start focusing on where they are now playing. I didn’t have to do that.

“I was a Hawks fan obviously my whole life and then go to continue to be a Hawks fans when I was there. ... When I first got drafted there I never thought I was going to leave. I thought I was going to be a Blackhawk forever.

“It’s very rare, I guess, in the NHL for one player to stay in one place their whole career. It doesn’t happen too often. But you never really picture yourself being traded. That’s where my head was at.

Craig said there was always pressure of being a Chicago-area product and living up to the hopes of the city.

“I think he was heartbroken when they traded him, Craig said. “He wanted to be a Blackhawk his entire life. So he’s a Chicago boy and he wanted to make Chicago proud of him. I think there’s something special about him being here. It’s not easy.”

“I was disappointed. I didn’t understand it but I also get the business side of it.”

Ryan agreed: “It was kind of tough on my family and all that. But it was a new challenge.”

‘We had a heart-to-heart’

Ryan Hartman played another season in Nashville, Tenn., and was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he finished out the 2018-19 season.

He was latched on to the Minnesota Wild and felt like the team bought in to him.

“Minnesota was the one we went with, and wasn’t even necessarily a money thing,” he said . “It was depth chart. They didn’t have many righties on their team. We went over all that stuff. We tried to find a place that was best fit for me, and that was Minnesota.”

He signed a three-year contract extension in April with an annual cap hit of just $1.7 million.

“We had a heart-to-heart about my expectations, his expectations. and I was thinking the financial side of it,” Craig said. “Reading the media and what the expectations and what his contract value should be, I was thinking like he should finally get a payday here.

“He said, ‘Dad, I get to be there for three years, stability, and my GM (Bill Guerin) and my coach (Dean Evason) love me and they believe in me, and I have an opportunity to show my skills. ... I have a chance to be on the power play and end of the season being on the top line. I think I can show them how much I can bring to the team.’

“I was like, ‘Go for it.’ ”

Craig agrees that it worked for the best.

“I’m so happy he did that because he was smarter than I am.”