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Hartman describes what it’s like playing with Kaprizov, Zuccarello

The grinding force on the top line is just doing his job.

NHL: NOV 24 Wild at Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ryan Hartman knows his role isn’t to be the star of the show, or the one getting the majority of the spotlight. He is, essentially, the quintessential Minnesota Wild hockey player; a very solid player that just does the little things right and can suddenly find themselves in the middle of a hot streak.

Hartman’s surge up the lineup was earned by doing that with basically anyone he played with. The style didn’t change too much, but it was the 27-year-old that consistently performed and tried to support his linemates enough to hopefully score more goals than the opponent.

Now 20 games into his third full season on this team, he has been playing all through the depth chart, but has lately found himself centering some of the Wild’s top offensive options in Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. And he will be there for a while if he keeps on doing what that line was able to do on Friday, as they completely dismantled the Winnipeg Jets on their way to a 7-1 win over the divisional rival.

For Hartman, he has his own way of thinking about it and how his own skills can be a complimentary factor when he doesn’t necessarily have the puck.

“I try to get to the front of the net when they have the puck in the zone, which brings one or two defenders to the front of the net, and that kind of opens up the zone for them,” Hartman said after the game. “I’ve played with some skill guys in the past and they’ve told me, ‘Just get to the net and we’ll do the rest.’ So, it’s very similar to that. Just trying to create space for them and at the same time make plays when given.”

He said it himself, it’s all about space and giving his teammates those extra inches can really play a large factor in setting up scoring chances. And this year, Hartman has been able to clean up a lot of rebounds or get in those extra holes someone else creates, to lead Minnesota in goals scored with 11 in just 20 games.

At least he’s kind of been here before, and can understand what might happen in the next 20.

“I’m trying to think what year it was, I maybe had nine goals in early December, and someone said to me that you’re gonna get 20 by some time,” Hartman said, grinning. “And I ended up going on like a 20-game drought. I try to just learn from that experience and just keep going.”

Hartman is shooting at a career-high 15.6 percent, which isn’t a completely abnormal number, but only if your name is Alexander Ovechkin or Auston Matthews. The percentages are bound to go the other way eventually, but for right now he’s enjoying his role on the top line, being the first center on the depth chart, and being able to clear the deck for the other guys to put it in the back of the net for themselves. And it seems like he’s at peace knowing that he’ll just be here, no matter his role.

Before Minnesota, Hartman already played for four different NHL organizations by his 24th birthday. A first-round pick that held some sort of pedigree, but was thrust around as a high-value piece to go to teams that were shelling off one of their rental pieces. That instability must have been jarring. But then, when he was finally able to play consecutive years for a team that clearly adored how he played the game giving him career-high minutes, he decided to take a pay cut to play on the Wild. Of course, the job security is nice for a player that has been tossed around the continent, but it’s the appreciation for what he does on the ice that signals his worth. It isn’t a multi-year deal to a fourth-liner that is nice to the GM, Hartman works his ass off on the ice and it’s extremely visible to anyone that watches. That’s how he can play with Kaprizov, and that’s how he randomly leads the team in goals scored so far this season.

Hartman has the selfless mentality that we all want to hypothesize into our favorite athletes. Now, there’s one standing in front of us, playing for our hockey club and he’s doing really well.