Hardman, a physical wing who signed with the Hawks on March 31, entered Boston College as an overlooked recruit. But his success on a line with first-rounders — and close friends — Alex Newhook and Matthew Boldy helped elevate his profile.
Most hockey coaches stir their lines as often as their team chefs stir the spaghetti dinners.
But in January 2020, when Boston College coach Jerry York saw the chemistry three of his freshman forwards — Matthew Boldy, Alex Newhook and Mike Hardman — had together, he made them a permanent line.
“They all complemented each other,” York said. “All three brought something different to the table.”
Hardman wasn’t as decorated as his teammates. Boldy and Newhook were highly touted recruits and first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Boldy went 12th to the Wild and Newhook 16th to the Avalanche.
Hardman, who signed with the Blackhawks last month, was never drafted, already two years out of high school and generally “not considered [to be] in that group,” York said. But the Boston-area native quickly proved he deserved to be.
“The biggest thing for us three is we were really close on and off the ice,” Hardman said. “ ‘Bolds’ and ‘Newy’ were two of my best friends. I talked to them on a day-to-day basis. When we got on a line together, I got a lot more confidence through my freshman year.”
In 2019-20, Newhook led BC with 42 points in 34 games, but Hardman nearly matched Boldy by unexpectedly breaking out for 25 points, sixth on the team.
With Newhook missing a large chunk of the 2020-21 season, Hardman rose to third on the team in scoring, tallying 19 points in 24 games.
“They knew I had a shoot-first mentality, and both of them are really good passers,” Hardman said. “Being able to play with them and learn from each other what to do [was great].”
After the Eagles’ season ended March 28, Newhook and Boldy signed with their rights-holding teams. Hardman, approached by numerous NHL suitors as an undrafted free agent, also decided to forego his final two years of college eligibility to sign with the Hawks.
The 6-2, 205-pound winger has been practicing with the Hawks since April 7 and is expected to make at least a few appearances during the final games of the regular season.
“Chicago was one of the first teams I talked to,” he said. “It was the perfect fit, looking at the [depth chart] picture and opportunity here.”
“Being an unrestricted free agent, he had some real power over which organization he’d go to,” York said. “The Blackhawks said, ‘Come right to our big-league club and stay with us.’ ”
For Hardman to make it to the NHL is an accomplishment in itself. A late bloomer, he wouldn’t have even been ranked as one of the top-50 players in Massachusetts as a high school senior, York said.
He didn’t go directly to college after graduating high school, either, spending one season with Des Moines of the USHL and another season with West Kelowna of the BCHL — a second-tier Canadian junior league — before returning to Boston.
“For him to do what he’s done, achieve what he has, it’s remarkable,” York said. “He was a third-line, second-line player in high school, and he just got better and better. He almost willed himself to be a player.”
He has immensely improved his skating — long considered his biggest weakness — in recent years, devoting many hours to edgework and first-three-strides explosiveness.
Hardman safely projects as a bottom-six grinder who can provide physicality and a decent shot at the pro level, even if he’s unlikely to grow into more than that. The Hawks consider that type of player underrepresented among their current forward prospect corps.
And once the NHL divisions revert back to normal, Hardman, Newhook and Boldy will find -themselves all rivals in the Central Division.
“[I want to] just have fun with it all,” Hardman said. “The biggest thing for me is I get to go to the rink every day and try to get better at it. That’s my job.”