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Well Done

May 6, 2021, 3:47 AM ET [1 Comments]
Theo Fox
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
I like my steaks medium rare with occasional rare steaks depending on the cut and quality of meat. The only time I like steaks cooked all the way through is when I make it for the kids' consumption and not mine.

Fully cooked is much better for young pro athletes. The Blackhawks youth are no different as far as my personal preference of doneness of prospects. Theoretically, they will perform much better in that state.

Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist are the primary examples that are scrutinized as to whether the Hawks did them a solid by bringing each along at the most optimal pace for their benefit and that of the team.

Today we take a look at this year's crop of freshmen and sophomores who have played in Chicago's lineup at any point this season and briefly review how their growth patterns have panned out so far.

Kirby Dach

There was much excitement for Dach's 2021 campaign given his immense growth from the COVID-induced hiatus a year ago to the 2020 postseason. Time in the Edmonton bubble was his supposed coming-out party.

But then Dach's second season seemed virtually over before it even started due to a benign bump in a WJC exhibition game that turned into a gruesome wrist injury sidelining him for at least 4 months.

Fast forward to March 27 when he made his season debut after what was billed as a quicker recovery than expected. Excitement surged again. Could Dach make up for lost time and be a go-to player off the bat?

While Dach has fallen quite short of picking up where he left off with the 2020 playoffs, he has still shown glimpses of what he could become once he has an entire training camp and fresh start to a new season.

Yet, there were fans who believed Dach should have taken the whole season off to not just recover fully to rehab but to simply not rush back to a season that was developmental than playoff aspirational.

Adding insult to injury (no pun intended) is the fact that Dach was forced to sit out the most recent game as he was diagnosed with having a "right wrist scar tissue aggravation" according to team PR.

That aggravation in turn caused aggravation amongst fans to the point of proverbially yelling "I told you so!" What makes matters worse is that Dach stated he still had soreness in his wrist upon returning.

Furthermore, even before and during the initial stages of his rookie year, many fans felt Dach should have stayed in juniors for another year to refine his game to become a dominant center in all facets.

Dach's 3rd season next year will be an indicator of whether he's developmentally on track or if his lack of advancement at lower levels and his wrist injury have significantly derailed what he can become.

Adam Boqvist

It was rumored that former team president John McDonough was the one in Blackhawks brass who wanted Boqvist with the big team right away after just 15 games in the minors despite him being far from ready.

If a recall from Rockford is based solely on merit, then Lucas Carlsson deserved the nod in 2019-20 as he was the IceHogs best all-around blueliner for the second season in a row. Boqvist clearly lacked pace.

In his half-season rookie trial last year before the pandemic shut everything down, Boqvist was very much a work in progress demonstrating momentary flashes of his offensive dynamism and hockey brilliance.

This season, though, started pretty badly for Boqvist as his game took a step down as he played tentatively, skated awkwardly, and just got beat constantly by other teams taking advantage of his slight frame.

When it rains it pours as Boqvist became one of the first Chicago players to be placed into COVID protocol. His landlord and roommate Alex DeBrincat was also in protocol but came back to the lineup sooner.

For a few games upon his own return to starting status, Boqvist continued to be mired in a malaise where it was insisted that he was better off getting demoted to the Hogs to marinate more in AAA.

However, a light switch got flipped and Boqvist did a 180 with his productivity not only offensively but more surprisingly defensively. In fact, one could argue his defensive growth has been more pronounced.

With that sharp maturation within the same season, thoughts of relegating Boqvist back to the minors quickly vaporized. He still has weaknesses to address but he's capable of ironing them out in the NHL.

Other Forwards

Dominik Kubalik has a sophomore goal output that's much lower than his 30-goal rookie total but -- like DeBrincat -- his overall game is strengthening including his playmaking and play without the puck.

Brandon Hagel was the Hogs rookie of the year last season and wouldn't have been in a bad situation being in Rockford for another season but became an immediate impact player for the Hawks a la Andrew Shaw.

Pius Suter is technically a rookie but played 5 years in the Swiss elite league so he already had substantial experience playing with and against pros. That's a definite plus that has aided him well so far.

Philipp Kurashev would have gained from another year in Rockford especially given his rookie pro year with the Hogs was cut short due to a head injury. Regardless, he seems to be swimming than drowning.

MacKenzie Entwistle is what may have been an ideal scenario for Kurashev by playing a second year in the AHL to hone his craft. Entwistle has his cup of coffee now and should be in the 2021-22 mix.

Adam Gaudette and Mike Hardman aren't covered due to being late-season acquisitions.

Other Defensemen

Ian Mitchell is the victim of being overly hyped by management before he even signed his ELC and really should have started the season in the AHL. His ceiling is still high but his growth curve may be steeper now.

Nicolas Beaudin has a full AHL season under his belt plus additional time there this season which should ultimately assist his development for the longer term to become a top 4 rearguard for the Hawks.

Wyatt Kalynuk began his rookie year with the Hogs and nailed his audition. While he has areas to improve, his time in the NHL has been inspiring to tease his potential as another top pair defender along with Boqvist.

Riley Stillman isn't covered due to being a late-season acquisition.

Goalies

The goaltending situation ended up being a full commitment to youngsters rather than having a veteran starter in either Corey Crawford or Robin Lehner with an up-and-coming backup.

Prior to this season, Malcolm Subban played parts of 5 NHL seasons with the Bruins, Golden Knights, and Hawks. Collin Delia registered 18 games before 2021 while Kevin Lankinen is the only true rookie.

Both Subban and Delia struggled early this season. Subban has had a roller coaster ride since then with hot and cold streaks. Delia started Games 2 and 3 but didn't start again until Game 53 on Tuesday.

Lankinen in contrast came out like gangbusters catapulting him to #1 string for much of the season but has regressed for over a month by running hot and cold of late similarly to Subban.

Was it the right choice to go with youth at both starter and backup? Would an extra year of being a trio again with Matt Tomkins have aided Delia and Lankinen? And would Subban have been the Hawks starter?

To answer that last question, it depends on whether management would have pursued an experienced netminder to either be the starter or to back up whoever of Subban, Delia, or Lankinen emerged as the #1.

In a perfect world, yes, it likely would have been best for there to be a capable veteran paired with one of Subban, Delia, or Lankinen, at least for one season then reevaluate for 2021-22.

Then again, would there have been a viable one-year goalie rental available on the free agent market or via trade? Too late, of course, for this season but could this be a solution for the next one?

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Game Day

Game 54, May 6:
Blackhawks @ Hurricanes
6:00pm CST

Who will get the start between the pipes? Also, will rookie defenseman Alec Regula get a chance either in this game or the upcoming season-ending series versus the Stars?

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See you on the boards!

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