CHICAGO -- After making big impacts in NCAA hockey, forwards Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte are looking to do the same with the Chicago Blackhawks.
When that happens, however, is to be determined. But they will get an opportunity to make it happen during their first NHL training camp in September. It's a big reason they left college eligibility on the table to sign with the Blackhawks, who were squeezed by the NHL salary cap again, resulting in the trades of forwards Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell to create some breathing room.
Now a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015 is looking for some inexpensive impact players from within its system to fill important roles up front, and Schmaltz and Motte will be in the mix.
"They have salary-cap issues so they need younger guys to play," said Schmaltz, 20, who helped the University of North Dakota win the 2015 NCAA championship. "I think it's a great time [to turn pro], and I think a lot of young guys are going to be in the NHL this year. Hopefully I can work for a job."
Trading Shaw and Teravainen, in particular, created vacancies Schmaltz and Motte could become leading candidates to fill. Schmaltz (6-foot, 177 pounds) is a versatile playmaking forward, similar to Teravainen, while Motte (5-9, 188) draws comparisons to Shaw (5-11, 179) as an undersized net-front presence.
"You're happy there's going to be an opportunity, not only for myself, but there's plenty of young guys in the organization that are going to get their chance," Motte said. "It's just a matter of taking the opportunity and doing the best you can with it. Hopefully you find your role and [can] produce in that role. I think that's what's really important."
Schmaltz is a forward who has top-six skills and sees the ice well. He was selected by the Blackhawks with the 20th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft and played two seasons at North Dakota. Last season, playing center on the top line, he finished third on the team with 46 points (11 goals, 35 assists).
Schmaltz finished third in the NCAA with a plus-44 rating, and scored the game-winning goal in the final minute of regulation to beat Denver in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals.
"It's obviously a big jump from being a college student to playing hockey for a job," Schmaltz said. "I think I've just gotten physically stronger and better defensively, and better with the puck. I'm playing faster and I'm getting the puck back, and then when I get the puck I think I'm making plays and finding my teammates."
Motte was taken by Chicago in the fourth round (No. 121) of the 2013 draft. He's coming off a breakout season at Michigan, where he played on a line with highly-skilled forwards J.T. Compher (Colorado Avalanche) and Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets).
In 38 games last season Motte had 56 points (32 goals, 24 assists), finished in the top 10 in voting for the Hobey Baker Award and had five points in five games with Rockford of the American Hockey League after signing with the Blackhawks. Motte also played for the United States at the IIHF 2015 World Championship in Russia, and had three points in 10 games to help the U.S. reach the bronze-medal game.
"I'm just trying to play smart, play a 200-foot game," said Motte, who led NCAA forwards last season with 70 blocked shots. "I'm trying to be defensively responsible, block shots, do some of those little things that may go unnoticed and try to produce offensively whenever the opportunity comes."
Schmaltz and Motte took early strides toward a roster spot at development camp, and the next step is training camp in September, which will be highly competitive between a number of young forward prospects. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said he is looking forward to watching the competition play out.
"The opportunities are there for these guys to step forward and show us which guys can [play]," Bowman said. "I think it's dangerous to try and label guys to fill [certain roles]. It's probably unfair to them. One thing I told all those guys was, 'I'm not sure which of you guys is going to make the team, but don't make the decision easy for us.'"