It was a long flight back from Russia, so Vincent Hinostroza had plenty of time to contemplate the next step of his hockey career.
Hinostroza, a 22-year-old forward in the Chicago Blackhawks system, had finished playing for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Moscow and St. Petersburg from May 6-22. He had a goal and two assists in nine games, but it was more about the overall experience for Hinostroza, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Bartlett, Ill.
"Russia was kind of a taste of being in the NHL," said Hinostroza, who made his NHL debut last season with the Blackhawks, playing seven games without a point. "You get treated real well. You're playing with NHL players. Coming back from that, you have a long nine-hour flight and kind of just think like, 'Next year, I want to be in the NHL. I want to be a full-time player, that's what I want to do.' The next day, I think I went to the gym."
It was the start of a strong offseason push for the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Hinostroza, including on-ice and off-ice workouts. He knows the competition among forward prospects is going to be fierce during training camp with a couple roster spots up for grabs, so he wants to be as prepared as possible.
"I just want to get stronger," he said. "I changed my diet and stuff. I just want to do everything right, so looking back I don't have any excuses of why I wasn't there."
The hard work paid off at Chicago's recent development camp, when Hinostroza was lauded for his speed and playmaking by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
But Hinostroza, chosen by Chicago in the sixth round (No. 169) of the 2012 NHL Draft, is one of a handful of Blackhawks forward prospects with NHL experience and raw talent. Others hoping to make the full-time jump to the League this season include Tanner Kero, Ryan Hartman, Mark McNeill and Kyle Baun.
Chicago made offseason trades to create space under the NHL salary cap, and those moves created some vacancies up front. The Blackhawks sent forward Andrew Shaw to the Montreal Canadiens and Teuvo Teravainen, along with Bryan Bickell, to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The race to fill those spots already has begun.
Hinostroza, Hartman and Kero all participated in development camp, which McNeill and Baun missed because of contract issues.
All five will be on the ice when training camp begins, along with a number of talented forwards who haven't played any NHL minutes yet.
"I think one thing that's different this year is they don't have a lot of veteran guys ahead of them, so they're essentially playing amongst themselves," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "We've got a group of six-to-eight young players and a number of them can make it. It's exciting for us to have that competition and no one is going to be handed jobs."
That said, those who do have NHL time on their resumes could have a leg up to start the race.
Among Hinostroza's NHL games last season was the Blackhawks' 6-1 loss against the Minnesota Wild in a 2016 Coors Light Stadium Series game at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium. He also had 51 points (18 goals, 33 assists) for Rockford of the American Hockey League, where he displayed a similar game to Teravainen while playing center and right wing.
Hartman, 21, has played eight NHL games with the Blackhawks, including three last season, with one assist. After being selected with the 30th pick of the 2013 draft, he played two full AHL seasons with Rockford and patterns his game after Shaw's gritty style.
Kero, 24, is a speedy center who made his NHL debut last season for Chicago with a goal and two assists in 17 games. He finished the season with Rockford, where he had 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 60 games.
Baun, 24, and McNeill, 23, are each power forwards.
Baun, at 6-2 and 209 pounds, started last season with the Blackhawks and played two games before being sent to Rockford. An injury limited him to nine points (one goal) in 43 games for the IceHogs.
McNeill, at 6-2 and 214 pounds, made his NHL debut last season for the Blackhawks, who chose him with the 18th pick in the 2011 draft. He has appeared in one NHL game, but played three full seasons in Rockford, where he has 129 points (66 goals, 63 assists) in 215 AHL games.
Like Hinostroza, each has designs on winning the forwards competition at training camp and sticking around with the Blackhawks this season.
"I don't really see it as pressure," said Hartman, who is from the Chicago suburb of West Dundee, Ill. "It's more motivation. It gets you in the gym earlier, gets you doing the extra things, because you know there's a spot and if you don't do whatever you can to [earn] it, you're going to be kicking yourself at the end."