The Blackhawks wasted no time jumping into the college free agent market earlier this week, signing Boston College sophomore forward Mike Hardman to a two-year deal on Tuesday afternoon.
Hardman, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound power forward, was knocked out of the NCAA tournament on Sunday as BC fell to St. Cloud State in the second round.
"It was a really exciting time for my family and me," he said. "Just signing the paperwork, it was a great feeling, but also was an emotional 48 hours, just losing in the playoffs with BC… It was definitely sad leaving those guys, but really excited to be a Blackhawk."
The 22 year old had his pick of NHL teams courting his signature, but felt that Chicago was the right place to begin his pro career.
"The city of Chicago is unbelievable and such a good hockey town, but also seeing that the team's really young and there's an opportunity for me to play," Hardman said. "I thought it was the right fit."
Here are three things to know about the new forward:
Before heading to Boston College, Hardman went unselected the NHL draft in consecutive years, 2018 and 2019. The second time around was particularly hard after a strong season in the BCHL, finishing second in the league with 39 goals and third in points with 72.
By the end of his freshman year, he had NHL teams interested in signing the free agent, and even more came calling after finishing his sophomore year second in goals (10) and third in points (19) for BC.
"Because he was a big guy and the skating wasn't there, that was the initial red flag going through the draft," said Mike Doneghey, Director of Player Evaluation/Recruitment for the Blackhawks. "Then as people watched him and his feet caught up to the rest of his body and his maturity and physical strength, then he started becoming more attractive. He ultimately got to BC -- who for two years has been a top-five team in the country -- and they play at a high pace and he was able to show NHL teams that, 'Ok, well you missed my in the draft, but I can play at this high pace with skill players and be impactful.'"
"Not being drafted was definitely disappointing," Hardman admitted. "Going into my freshman year at BC, I was going in with a chip on my shoulder and trying to get an opportunity to play and try to do well. That season, when I got on a line with Alex Newhook and Matt Boldy, I think our line just really clicked and just felt a lot more comfortable playing at the college level. It was just an honor to be able to play with those guys the second half of my freshman year and then my whole sophomore year."
Those linemates, both top-15 picks in the 2019 draft that led to Hardman's free agency, each signed entry-level contracts with the Avalanche and Wild, respectively, within 36 hours of their teammate's deal in Chicago.
"He's a big guy, he plays a power game along the boards and net-front, and he's got the brain to play with some skill players," Doneghey said. "He knows he's not the skill guy on the line, but he'll be F1 on the forecheck and go in, get the puck and give it to those guys and get to net front. But also, his last year in British Columbia, he had 38 goals, so he's got a good touch around the net."
Hardman stepped onto campus at BC in the fall of 2019 with a lot to prove just months after his second go-round in the draft. He finished his freshman season with 25 points (12G, 13A) in 34 games. It ended earlier than planned, though, with the 2019 NCAA tournament canceled as COVID-19 took hold of the country. Hardman felt he still had work to do in Boston and turned down interested NHL teams in favor of a second season.
"I still thought I needed an extra year to play college," he explained. "Especially with all the COVID stuff going on, we didn't get to play playoffs after my freshman year, so definitely wanted to try and win some trophies my sophomore year. This year, I thought I took a step forward and I thought it was the right time for me to sign."
As fate would have it, there was also a change taking place in Chicago last summer that would eventually lead to Hardman choosing to sign with the Blackhawks earlier this week.
The Boston-based Doneghey, who had previously served as the chief U.S. scout for the Blackhawks, was promoted to Director of Player Evaluation/Recruitment -- leading the process of finding those free agents with a big potential. Having scouted at Boston College frequently, Doneghey was quite familiar with the progress Hardman was already making.
"(Scouts) always do reports of drafted players on other (college) teams and guys that maybe have some free agent potential and funnel it to the group that it needs to go to (in the Hockey Operations department)," Doneghey explained. "When I got moved to this position in June, he was a guy that came right to the top of my mind. One of the first persons I texted when I got the position was Jerry Buckley, who was his advisor at the time and is now is his agent. I was asking about him."
"They had five or six teams that, if he wanted to come out last year, were ready to sign him, but he just wasn't ready." Doneghey continued. "I said, 'Well, how do I get in the mix?'"
History needs no explaining. Doneghey got his guy.
"Chicago was one of the first teams that reached out and ever since then, they were a team that's contacted me and been interested… He was the main guy that was recruiting me," Hardman said. "The fact that he's from Attleboro, Mass., I got to talk to him a lot the past two years and I thought he was an awesome guy and a great recruiter."
MAKING THE JUMP
Unlike a lot of college free agents, whose seasons typically would end right around the end of a normal NHL campaign, Hardman is immediately joining the Blackhawks taxi squad in Chicago to jump-start his professional career with nearly six weeks left in the 2020-21 schedule.
"He's a big body and he skates well and he's played with top players and a contributor on an offensive line," head coach Jeremy Colliton said of Hardman. "He's coming here, kind of get a look at him. He's going to have to quarantine, but we'll see when we get him on the ice."
"He's going to have to get acclimated and get his feet under him," Doneghey said. "It's going to be an adjustment going from college hockey to the NHL, especially for a team like us. We're in a playoff battle right now. But I think once he gets a chance to play, he's going to open some eyes, not only with the players but with the coaching staff as well."
Hardman says he's looking to continue to take strides in his game and learn from the best as he reaches a new level.
"There's obviously a good amount of guys that have played in the NHL for a while, so just learning from the older guys and seeing what they do on a day-to-day basis to perform at their best," Hardman explained of his early goals. "It's definitely different than college, so just learning the ins and outs of being a pro every day and how to be successful."