Many questions are still being worked out before the beginning of the 2020/21 NHL season. In fact, it might be more precisely referred to as the “2021 NHL season,” having become clear some time ago that no new games will be played this calendar year. However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said today that the puck could still drop by mid-January.
Although it is not settled exactly when and where the games will be played, several former Black Hawks will be making new starts during the upcoming campaign. A seemingly inordinate number of alumni had contracts which expired at the end of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs or signed after the college season ended last spring. In this feature, we review some of those notable moves.
Craig Smith – Boston Bruins
In the summer of 2019, free agent Joe Pavelski relocated more than 1,500 miles from the San Jose Sharks to the Dallas Stars. A little more than a year later, Craig Smith went almost as far, uprooting from Nashville to join the Boston Bruins. The comparison is apt in more than geographic distance; other than Pavelski, no former Hawk played as many games for the NHL club with which he debuted than Smith.
The 31-year-old’s entire nine-season career had been spent with the Predators, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. Smith has produced a positive plus/minus differential every year after his second season in the NHL. His 2019/20 offensive numbers (18 goals, 13 assists in a COVID-shortened 69 games) compare favorably to full season marks from a year earlier (21 goals, 17 assists in 76 games).
“It’s a new start, somewhere else, it’s exciting,” Smith recently told the Boston Herald. “It was time for a little bit of change for us. We’re going to a new city and going to a great team.”
While Smith and Boston are getting acquainted, his arrival with the club rekindles a long history between Waterloo and the Bruins. The Black Hawks’ first alum to climb to the NHL was Boston’s Bill Bennett in 1978. Before Smith’s first appearance in the weeks ahead, the most recent former Waterloo skater to wear the “B” was Andrew Alberts from 2005/06 to 2007/08. In that time, Alberts appeared in 184 games for Boston.
If Smith is in the lineup with the same regularity that he has been throughout his NHL career, he should surpass Albert’s Boston game total within the term of the current three-year contract he signed in October. It’s the likely outcome, even if this NHL schedule is abbreviated.
Vinnie Hinostraza – Florida Panthers
He had no control over the first move, but Vinnie Hinostroza had a chance to determine where he was going in the second.
After the 2017/18 season, the Chicago Blackhawks dealt the forward to the Arizona Coyotes. At that time, he had recorded 13 goals in his NHL career. The new scenery appeared to be a wonderful fit. In 2018/19, Hinostroza was in the lineup 72 times with 16 goals and 23 assists, all career highs.
However, circumstances changed last season. Hinostroza’s ice time – particularly on the power play – was limited as the Coyotes’ roster was augmented by several notable veteran forwards. He notched just one power play point in 2019/20.
"I want to earn my ice time on the power play, I want to kill penalties and, obviously, I want to play at 5-on-5," said Hinostroza shortly after signing with the Florida Panthers. "I think for me it's just getting my game together, coming down and putting everything together."
Although he is moving to his third club as he prepares for his sixth year in the league, Hinostroza is still only 26 years old. Theoretically, he could double his 246 career regular season appearances before he turns 30 in April of 2024.
He’ll be the third former Black Hawk to play for Florida, following two Waterloo teammates – Ian McCoshen and Jacob MacDonald – to the organization.
Ian McCoshen – Minnesota Wild
After playing college hockey in Boston and making his first NHL appearance with a club from Miami, Ian McCoshen has been inching closer to his roots in the upper Midwest. He inked a new contract with the Minnesota Wild for the coming year, which will be spent either in St. Paul or Des Moines.
The one-year pact is a two-way contract, providing the Minnesota Wild more flexibility to shift him from their roster back-and-forth to the Iowa Wild depending on the team’s needs.
The 2019/20 season was the first one during the last four years in which McCoshen didn’t make at least one NHL appearance. However, he was part of an NHL trade which relocated him from the Springfield Falcons (the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers) to the Rockford IceHogs (farm club for the Chicago Blackhawks).
His initial game with the NHL Wild will be his first appearance at that level since skating for the Panthers in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 25, 2019. In 60 career NHL games (all with Florida), the 25-year-old defenseman has four goals and three assists.
Former Black Hawks (and Minnesota natives) J.T. Brown and Justin Kloos have each had stints with the Wild in recent seasons.
Dylan Samberg – Winnipeg Jets
First and foremost, Samberg is reportedly ok after being involved in a scary multivehicle accident last month.
Under different circumstances, he would have been in Winnipeg and nowhere near northeastern Minnesota during Thanksgiving week.
Samberg would be settling in with either the Jets or their nearby affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, if not for COVID-19. After winning a pair of NCAA championships at Minnesota-Duluth, he signed with Winnipeg this spring. The Jets drafted Samberg in 2017 following his brief tenure with Waterloo.
Opportunity could arrive quickly for the soon-to-be 22-year-old. Winnipeg lost veteran defenseman Dustin Byfuglien last season. Several other new faces are anticipated to be on the Jets’ blue line this winter. Depending on his showing in training camp, Samberg could be among the first of them.
Tom Novak – Nashville Predators
Under normal circumstances, a player coming out of a superb year in AHL, who signed an NHL contract in the offseason, and who then was assigned to an ECHL team, might be unhappy. These are not normal circumstances, and Tom Novak’s stint with the Florida Everblades could be a big opportunity.
The Nashville Predators originally drafted Novak after he played for Waterloo in 2014/15. When he completed his time at the University of Minnesota, Novak moved to pro hockey on a deal with the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, rather than the Predators themselves. Last season, he was among the leaders in both team scoring and several statistical categories for AHL rookies.
Novak’s standing as a Predator or an Admiral during the coming year is not clear. However, he has this going for him: whenever NHL and AHL training camps begin, he should be in game shape, thanks to his temporary ECHL assignment.
The ECHL schedule is already underway; Novak was not there in time to skate in the Everblades lineup last weekend. He will be joining a squad with includes fellow Waterloo alumni Michael Huntebrinker, Blake Winiecki, and Cam Johnson.
David Cotton – Carolina Hurricanes
Cotton played his full four years at Boston College, then signed with Carolina as hockey was coming to a screeching halt in the spring. The opportunity was notable for the Cotton family, because his older brother, Jason, also came to terms with the Hurricanes at the same time.
In 2015, Cotton was drafted by Carolina and joined the organization for several prospect camps in the intervening years.
Although five seasons passed from the time he was drafted until the parties sealed a contract, Cotton told NHL.com in 2019 that the timeline was mutually agreed upon, providing more time for the big forward to develop at the NCAA level.
If he is fully prepared to take the ice with Hurricanes, he could battle for a roster spot. Otherwise, Cotton will likely be reasonably close to Waterloo - just down Highway 20 - as a member of the Chicago Wolves, Carolina’s new AHL affiliate.
Where Are They Now features are presented by Karen’s Print Rite at 2515 Falls Avenue in Waterloo.