Tommy Wingels looks to play big role for Hawks
by Scott King
How big of an impact 29-year-old Wilmette native Tommy Wingels wants to have on the ice with the Blackhawks is entirely up to him.
Wingels, who played in 337 games with the San Jose Sharks in seven seasons before getting traded to the Ottawa Senators early last year, signed a one-year contract with the Hawks on July 1.
The forward put his first NHL goal past Corey Crawford in Chicago on Jan. 15 2012.
Wingels is expected to bring energy and grit to the Blackhawks’ bottom six. Something that was void in the Hawks’ first round sweep by the Nashville Predators this past postseason.
“I think it’s important [that] your high-end skill guys can be your high-end skill guys,” Wingels said. “And everybody knows those guys are going to contribute and carry this team, so it’s ultimately about depth players, your depth guys carrying the way and being the difference-makers throughout the season.
“In the playoffs, you’ve got to be the guys who set the tone when your high-end guys get a bit worn down. It’s your job to set the tone in practice. It’s your job to be physical. It’s your job to be good defensively and just kind of lead the way.
“So, it’s certainly very important for guys like myself and [Lance Bouma] to contribute, to be big parts of this team. We can’t come in and just say we’re going to be depth players that are not important. We’ve got to come in on day one and say, ‘We’re going to have a high impact on this team,’ and we’re ready to do that.”
Bouma, also a forward, played in 304 NHL games before also signing a one-year contract with the Hawks on July 1. He tallied 67 points in six seasons with the Calgary Flames.
Blackhawks color analyst for WGN Radio and former Hawk Troy Murray agrees on the importance of having players like Wingels and Bouma in the lineup.
“These guys are guys that are gritty players,” Murray said. “And they play in your face and they’re tougher to play against than maybe what [the Blackhawks] had last year when in a lot of people’s minds, it was quite apparent the Blackhawks had no push back in the series against Nashville.”
Wingels won’t be just be looking to be a sandpaper player. With a change of scenery, and there’s no place like home, it’s possible he finds a scoring touch. During the 2013-2014 season with San Jose, Wingels netted 16 goals and snagged 38 points with a +/- rating of +11. He scored 15 goals the following season before his numbers began to dip.
“He can play,” said former Blackhawk and current San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson of Wingel’s ability. “He scored 16 or 17 goals with us in a couple years. He can play with really good players, he can play up and down on roles. Good PK guy, but he plays hard, just a really quality person that brings it shift after shift after shift.”
Wingels credits Wilson and his time in San Jose for his development as a pro.
“It was fabulous, and I think Doug Wilson was the reason for that,” Wingels said. “He kind of groomed me, helped me decide when to turn pro after my third year at Miami. There was no pressure on his end, but he was very clear on his expectations and my role as a professional hockey player, and I think I owe him a lot for helping me along the way.
“We had a great run there in San Jose. I enjoyed every minute of it. I think Doug and I will be long-time friends after hockey ends. It’s weird not seeing him at the rink every day, but I’ll get over it here and I’ll be happy to see these guys now.”
Despite good times with the Sharks and logging time in Ottawa last season as well, the winger is glad to be home.
“It was a no-brainer for me, for two reasons,” Wingels said. “Obviously, growing up a Blackhawks fan, the way this organization treats their players and the people in this city, the stigma of being a member of the Chicago Blackhawks is one side of it.
“The second side of it is this is a championship-caliber team. If you want to join a team that has the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup, this is the place to do it. The guys in this locker room believe it. The guys in this organization believe it. The coaches believe it. And anything but a championship is a failure.
“As a player, that’s the only reason to play this game. That’s why I play this game. So, this was the best opportunity to do that, by far. So, I’m very happy to contribute any way that I can and help the team from the get go.”
Wilson provided a little more insight on what the hometown addition can do for the Hawks and how he may endear himself to the fans in Chicago.
“Tommy is a really good hockey player,” Wilson said. “Plays it the right way. We loved having him [be] part of the San Jose Sharks, he was a really important part of our team. I know he’s going to do extremely well for the Blackhawks, especially coming back as a local kid, so we wish him nothing but the best. He’s a really good man, great wife, great family.”
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