CHICAGO -- What would make a six-year NHL veteran who owns a Norris Trophy, Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup ring to click on YouTube to view a 20-year-old, fifth-round draft pick?
“It’s funny, I was looking at the guys we drafted this summer,” Keith said after Shaw scored the fifth goal of his young career Wednesday night in a 6-2 win over Buffalo. “I looked at the write-ups on each guy, and he was the guy I was kind of interested in because of his small stature and penalty minutes. So I YouTubed him quite a bit, and I was pretty pumped up that we drafted him. He’s turned out to be a pretty good player.”
He’s not the only one pumped.
Shaw has quickly become a fan favorite and is making history just playing in the NHL as much as he has already. His eight games played in his draft year are more than any player drafted in the fifth round or later since 2003. His five goals defy explanation. For comparison, Michael Frolik has five goals in 45 games played, and Shaw is even halfway to Patrick Kane’s season total compiled in 47 games.
“Just going into each shift like it’s my last,” Shaw said recently. “You never know where you’re going to be in a few days or few weeks. I’m just working as hard as I can and good things will happen.”
If you’re wondering how a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NHL draft is playing a key role on a Cup contending team you’re probably not alone. Twenty-nine other teams are probably wondering the same thing about him. They had a chance -- in fact several chances -- to draft him, but the Hawks gobbled him up and are reaping the early rewards.
“He finds a way to get things done,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Whether there is some limitations or whatever in people’s minds, he overcomes a lot of things with his determination. He does have a great skill set that complements his instincts offensively.”
Shaw has scored his five goals mostly by being around the net. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, it’s not exactly the easiest place to stand, but rule changes to the game have made it less difficult to set up camp in front of opposing goalies as he did for his goal and assist on Wednesday.
“I think there is a guy actually smaller than me in the locker room,” Kane joked. “It’s nice to have that … It seems like he makes something happen on every shift.”
Shaw, 20, went undrafted for two years until he started to turn heads last season in the OHL playing for his junior team, the Owen Sound Attack. The Attack had finished as high as second only once in a decade. In 2011 they went from fifth to first thanks in part to Shaw’s 22 goals and 32 assists in 66 games. Then came the playoffs and Memorial Cup when he really started to get noticed. In 20 games he had 10 goals and seven assists.
“He got better each year,” director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said this week via phone from Moscow where he was scouting. “The first year he was a good young player, but there was nothing that really defined his game other than the fact that he was persistent. He antagonized. And the second and third year he became more of a complete player.”
It wasn’t just the first four rounds of this past draft when people passed on him. He was passed over completely in 2009 and 2010, going undrafted. Recently he called himself a “late bloomer” and the Hawks would agree.
“It’s very, very unexpected,” Kelley said of his quick success in the NHL. “We knew when we drafted him he would fit the kind of player that Joel likes. He antagonizes, but he does it within the team concept, and he’s a smart player.”
Kane was asked if the words “resilient” and “gritty” describe Shaw.
“Probably some other words that come to mind that you really can’t say on the air,” Kane joked. “He’s a pleasure to have around. He’s fun to watch on the ice. It seems like every time he’s out there, someone is smiling on the bench, like ‘Look at this guy.’ ”
The Hawks had Shaw in mind on draft day but weren’t sure who else did. He led the Memorial Cup in scoring which opened eyes, even if he was 20 years old already and passed over twice.
“We talked about him specifically two days before taking him, and we decided that we wanted to get him,” Kelley said. “We knew there were some other teams on to him but a player that has gone through two previous drafts we knew we had a little bit of time before we had to take him. We did not tip our hand and do a lot of public inquiries.”
Kelley laughed before finishing his thought: “In hindsight we probably should have taken him in the fourth round.”
Shaw has used the oldest motivation in the book to get where he is now: Playing with a chip on his shoulder. It’s hard to blame him considering his instant success despite so many teams passing on him for several years.
“I always loved proving people wrong,” Shaw said. “It just kind of shows hard work pays off. It’s nice they’ve shown confidence. I’ve worked for that. Just want to keep going.”
There’s a slight cockiness to Shaw, but he knows his place in the dressing room. On a Toews’ power play scored Wednesday night, Shaw was reluctant to tell anyone he touched the puck on its way to the net before Toews scored. It meant taking an assist away from Kane and giving Shaw his first career helper. The official scorer changed it anyway.
“I try to keep people happy around me,” Shaw said. “I’m a pretty energetic guy. I’m kind of a character player as well.”
Kelley gave Rockford IceHogs coach Ted Dent credit for getting Shaw and the other rookie contributors ready for the NHL game in a short amount of time. But everyone who has seen Shaw knows his desire is what got him where he is now.
“He’s one of those kids that leaves it out on the rink,” Quenneville said. “I would think he should be able to improve off the levels we’ve seen. It's been a great start for him. You lose a type like Danny Carcillo, you lose some physicality, that tenacity. He provides some of that tenaciousness, some competitiveness.”
And he does it all while playing within the confines of the game. Shaw finally took his first minor penalty of his career Thursday night, in his eighth game.
So now the question is, can the fairy tale continue? Shaw has yet to experience the rigors of life on the road in the NHL. A nine-game trip looms after the All-Star break.
And then there is this historical perspective, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau: The only other rookie in Blackhawks history to record a four-game goal-scoring streak within his first eight career games in the NHL was an obscure World War II era player named Harvey Fraser, who made his NHL debut with Chicago at age 26 in November 1944 and scored goals in each of his first four games.
In fact, Fraser recorded a total of five goals and four assists in those four games. But Fraser’s Cinderella story came to an abrupt end as he played 17 more games for the Hawks that season without registering any points, got sent to the minors and never played another game in the NHL.
No one is predicting that kind of future for Shaw, but it’s a reminder things can go from one extreme to another quickly in professional sports. But Shaw’s personality might simply make for good staying power.
Kelley summed it up in explaining his junior team’s rise to the top.
“They were a team that just wouldn’t go away, kind of like his character on the ice,” Kelley said.