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Shaw sticks to his game, gets rewarded

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks

Of the three 2011 draft picks recently signed by the Blackhawks, two were first rounders with high pedigrees – Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault. The third was Andrew Shaw, selected in the fifth round (139th overall) this summer after being passed over in his first two draft-eligible years. That’s 18 rounds and 551 players before Chicago finally took a flyer on the 20-year-old native of Belleville, Ont., who is now set to face the Flyers in his NHL debut Thursday night.

It’s accurate to say that Andrew Shaw has defied some expectations on his road to professional hockey, and he took another big step on that journey Wednesday morning when he hit the ice with the Blackhawks after being called up from Rockford.

“A few years ago, I never thought I’d be playing my first game in the NHL, but that shows hard work plays off,” Shaw said after his first practice. “It’s going to be a war tomorrow, and I’m pretty excited for that. I just want the game to start.”

After signing a three-year contract Tuesday, Shaw expressed his relief at getting the deal done and added, “I’m very happy and excited to move forward from this point.”

Moving forward is something Shaw did consistently at the junior level, seeing his numbers improve each successive year he spent in the Ontario Hockey League. Last season, with the Owen Sound Attack, he scored a career-high 54 points (22G, 32A) and served 135 penalty minutes. His stock soared after the Memorial Cup playoffs, in which he helped his team to the OHL championship with 17 points (10G, 7A) and 53 PIM in 20 games.

Shaw entered Blackhawks Prospect Camp this summer eager to prove his worth and ended up fighting fellow prospect and current teammate Dylan Olsen, who has four inches and 40 pounds on Shaw.

“I didn’t have much pressure so I just went out there, had fun, played my game and they were happy with what they saw,” he said.

Shaw drew blood in that fight but left just as deep an impression on the coaching staff.

“We’ve liked him since he came to the organization,” said Head Coach Joel Quenneville. “We know the type of player he is and that he brings competitiveness. He’s one of those guys who finds ways to get it done.”

Billed as an agitator who won’t hesitate to punch above his weight class, Shaw has been credited with six fights so far this season, second most on the IceHogs. But it’s his overall edge – his ability to draw the opposing team’s attention and force them off their game – that makes him stand out despite his diminutive size.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Shaw’s favorite player growing up was Wendel Clark. “Captain Crunch” played a punishing, in-your-face style of hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Shaw has absorbed those details and made it part of his own game.

“I still go on YouTube and watch videos of him,” he said. “I think it’s inspiring, the way he played – playing hard, going to the net and finishing your checks.”

Shaw’s peskiness complements a decent nose for goals, as demonstrated by a recent offensive outpouring for Rockford. After moving up the depth chart, Shaw added grit and punch to the top line by creating space for skilled linemates like Brandon Pirri. That chemistry paid off for Shaw recently, as he paced the team with eight goals in December.

Then came the contract and the call-up.

“A few years ago, I never thought I’d be playing my first game in the NHL,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t stop shaking. My phone was blowing up with all of my buddies and my parents calling me.”

If Shaw was surprised by the success of his transition to the professional game, he is quick to praise his coaches and American Hockey League teammates for helping him get to this point.

“I didn’t come into my rookie year expecting to play with great players like Brandon Pirri, Brandon Segal or Jeremy Morin, but they’ve improved my game and helped me move forward,” he said. “Scoring goals is a bonus, and I’ll just keep working at it.”

Thursday in Philadelphia, Shaw will be the first player in franchise history to put on the No. 65 jersey, a number that is a testament to his newness. But what the Blackhawks hope to see from him is something more old-fashioned: hard work – and a hard-nosed mentality to go along with it.

“I’ve always played like that and always will,” said Shaw. They keep telling me, ‘Play your kind of hockey. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing with, just stick to your game.’”

It’s gotten him this far, after all.

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