The young man in question seems to feel he has the answer.
“I guess that’s a hot topic, but I take it as a compliment,” Hartman said. “I watched Andrew a lot and admired him. Little guy, big heart. Net-front presence, fearless, gets under people’s skin. It looks like there’s an opening, and yeah, I think I can do that.”
For several seasons, Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman intuited that several players in the farm system might be in the National Hockey League but for the quantity of quality on the Blackhawks. Hartman, a 2013 first-round draft choice, was among those in the waiting locker room.
Now, with the Blackhawks forced to trade the popular and effective Shaw because of the salary cap, there is a vacancy sign posted for a similarly edgy forward. Hartman, 21, appears to possess all the essentials, not least of which is a yearning to play on the team he’s ardently followed since childhood.
Although born in Hilton Head, S.C.—a golf mecca where he must have contracted the bug—Hartman moved to the Chicago area at age 2. He was raised in West Dundee, and even while performing in Detroit Red Wings country for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, Hartman openly professed allegiance to Chicago.
With a robust check during his February 2015 debut with the Blackhawks, Hartman detached Dainius Zubrus of the New Jersey Devils from his helmet. But despite two cameos with the parent club—five games that season, three last season—Hartman has toiled for the Rockford IceHogs, who were never nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. With 15 goals, 20 assists and 129 penalty minutes in 2015-16, he fit right in to their American Hockey League style.
“I like to mix it up,” he said. “My second pro fight was against a guy from the Milwaukee Admirals, Anthony Bitetto. It was probably his 100th. I didn’t land anything. Got hit maybe 14 times, but didn’t go down. My teammates told me to stay away from him, but I took it as a challenge. You don’t like to get punched, but to give it, you’ve got to take it. I’ve had a few fights in Rockford, and initiated maybe half of them.”
Off ice, Hartman is major mellow. He speaks softly and wields a big stick off the tee. He dotes on his white German Shepherd, Riley, and upon turning pro, bought a guitar to occupy his free time. He selected a good one too, and it’s not collecting dust.
“I can sort of do two songs now,” Hartman said. “One is ‘Free Falling’ by Tom Petty. The other is ‘Elderly Woman behind the Counter in a Small Town’ by Pearl Jam. I think if you heard them, you would recognize them. But no vocals. Don’t sing.”
Hartman is an athlete. He played tennis and soccer as a kid and kicked field goals. His dad suggested that if this hockey thing didn’t work out, maybe he should take a stab at football. Make big money, never get hit. But Ryan craves contact. With the Bloomingdale Bears in eighth grade, he created holes for Vincent Hinostroza, another Blackhawks prospect.
“He could really run,” Hartman said.
“He could really block,” Hinostroza said.
Hartman is eager, but comprehends that the path to the Blackhawks is a process. Minding his diet, Hartman shed 10 pounds and is down to 180. He seeks improved speed, a must in the NHL.
“It’s a lot faster up here, and everything is more precise,” he said. “Take a guy like Teuvo Teravainen. It was almost easier for him with the Blackhawks than with Rockford in the AHL. It’s good hockey there, but it is a step down. More tape-to-tape passes in the NHL, and then, of course, you have guys like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson getting you the puck up here.
“I’m patient, though. I’m still learning. And there’s no other place I want to play than Chicago. I grew up here, I’ve always been a Blackhawks fan, and I don’t feel any extra pressure trying to play in my hometown. It’s more motivation, if anything. It’s not a negative any more than being mentioned with Andrew Shaw is. He helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups.
“I’d like to earn a chance to do that, too.”