Kolupanowich: Andrew Shaw thriving as a Chicago Blackhawk

Chicago Blackhawks rookie Andrew Shaw drives to the net during a road game against the New Jersey Devils. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

It didn’t take Andrew Shaw very much time at all to make an impact with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 20-year-old native of Belleville, Ont. was called up for his first NHL game on Jan. 5 on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers and waited only until his second shift to show what kind of player he is going to be.

At 3:03 of the first period, Shaw dropped the gloves for his first NHL fight, taking on fellow rookie and OHL graduate, Zac Rinaldo. While the fight didn’t go his way (he was dropped early, bloodied and had his jersey ripped) Shaw returned after receiving a few stitches and potted his first career goal in the second period to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead.

Though they would ultimately lose the contest, Shaw gave a preview of what he would bring to the table for the remainder of the season. While not particularly big, listed at 5’10”, 180 pounds, the power forward is a high-impact, high-energy player, and has kept his own on a very talented Blackhawks team. As Shaw told fellow executive editor Jeff Blay in an interview for The Good Point during his last season in the OHL, there’s one quality he boasts that has undoubtedly been a major factor in getting him where he is today:

“Character; I bring everything I have into every game and I’m not afraid to step up to the plate,” Shaw said. “I’ll do anything the team needs me to do to win. I try to be the least selfish I can be and stay disciplined, but the other team still always knows I’m there.”

And Shaw is exactly right. Often playing on one of Chicago’s top lines, he’s proven to be an effective scorer, pesky opponent and responsible two-way forward – and it’s not the first time he’s used an opportunity to earn playing time to his advantage either.

After being overlooked in his first two years of eligibility, the ’91-born Shaw was drafted last summer, 139th overall, from the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack and is one of just eight players taken to have played in the NHL this season. The other seven were all taken in the first round.

It was with the Attack he was able to get his game going after being acquired from the Niagara IceDogs, where he spent his first two seasons of major junior from 2008-10. After scoring 19 goals and 39 assists in 124 games with Niagara (not to mention his 226 penalty minutes) he upped the anti and recorded 22 goals in 66 games with Owen Sound.

“He ended up getting the opportunity to play (here in Owen Sound),” said Terry Virtue, an associate coach for the Attack who closely worked with Shaw. “He always had the skill and the hands, it was just getting more ice time.” That ice time helped him gain a lot of confidence in the playoffs where he produced 10 goals and 17 points on the way to the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions and an appearance in the Memorial Cup tournament. Although the Attack failed reach the semi-final, Shaw led the tournament in scoring with two goals and seven points.

His goal production has not curtailed despite playing in the best league in the world. In fact, his .34 goals-per-game average is better than it was in both the AHL earlier this season (.32) and in his last season with the Attack (.33). His average is higher than any other rookie on pace to play more than 20 games this season; higher than first-overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (.32) and Calder Trophy frontrunner Gabriel Landeskog (.28). Shaw’s tallied have been important ones, too. Of his 11 goals this season, two have opened the scoring and two have been game-winning goals, including one in overtime.

That big-game performance should translate over very well to the NHL. “If he keeps the way he’s playing right now, there’s no doubt he’ll have an impact,” Virtue said. “He’s always in front of the net causing trouble and that’s the way you have to play in the playoffs.”

It’s no secret the Blackhawks are loaded with skill, but Shaw provides the net-area presence needed for a long playoff run. “Andrew’s the kind of guy that’s never going to stop. He’s not huge, but he has the heart of a big man where he’ll play as physical as he can,” Virtue said. “The guys you win championships with are those guys that keep going and he can be a huge asset to them going down the run here down the stretch.”

Shaw evidentially feels the same way, and reiterated similar points last year prior to the Attack’s lengthy playoff run.

“A role like mine, especially in playoffs, is big because you need at least three contributing lines to have success,” Shaw said. “You need to have guys who can kill penalties and shut down the other team’s top line.”

Virtue has watched a few Blackhawks games since Shaw’s call-up and has been pleasantly surprised at how quick the right wing has had an impact with the Hawks. “That’s a great thing for him,” Virtue said. “It should show everybody around the league that guys who are 20-years-old, if they work at their game, can get an opportunity like he has.”

Shaw certainly has a great opportunity with the Blackhawks. After two consecutive extended playoff runs, including a Stanley Cup championship in 2010, the Chicago was jettisoned in the first round last year by Vancouver. With his run in the Memorial Cup playoffs with Owen Sound last season, his confidence and experience should match quite well with the rest of the team. He brings even more exuberance to an already young and energetic team and can easily be a dark horse player on a championship team.

-Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor


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