Bryan Bickell defined what it means to be a clutch player.
While his regular season performance was rather meager scoring at a 0.33 PPG pace averaging 13.7 goals across a standard 82 games, Bickell proved his worth in the playoffs as he hulked up to a 0.52 PPG clip and enhanced his goal-scoring output (0.26 GPG compared to 0.16).
His two Stanley Cup rings and plays like this cemented his spot in the pantheon of memorable playoff warriors in Blackhawks history.
Those highlights were stellar but there was none bigger than this one which was the front end of the historic 17 seconds.
Despite these awesome feats, a primary factor to consider when viewing Bickell’s accolades is considering the team era in which his flame was the brightest.
Again, Bickell was pretty pedestrian during the regular season and that was actually okay because it was virtually a given that the Hawks would not only be in the playoffs but also be a Cup favorite.
The postseason was where Bickell’s heroics meant more and when he was expected to shine. Yes, he could have amped up his regular season contributions but not doing so didn’t hurt the team.
The Blackhawks Today
Fast forwarding to the present, it would be quite nice if the Hawks can hit upon a clutch performer -- or more -- like Bickell again.
However, when considering the aforementioned caveat, the Hawks can’t afford to have mediocre regular season performances from said players and wait for them to be clutch in the postseason as the team may struggle to even earn a playoff berth.
So in the current youth movement, it’s imperative that any players who may prove to be clutch playoff performers also show that mettle and moxie to consistently execute when the stakes are high during the regular season as well.
One more thing to keep in mind is clutch performance being an equal opportunity employer as defensemen and goalies are needed as much as forwards when the game is on the line.
A team’s best offensive players are often the team’s clutch performers when looking at the gamut of the entire year, not just pockets of excellence that may be few and far between.
Of course, there are the legendary Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Both future Hall of Famers have entire libraries of clutch performance highlights and are sure to keep adding more as they are still a long way from retirement.
Beyond 19 and 88 are the up-and-comers headlined by Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, and Dominik Kubalik. This trio may have what it takes to be constantly reliable in crucial situations within each game and game to game.
Perhaps Dylan Strome and Alex Nylander become clutch performers if they can hit potential and rise to the level of game-breaking consistency.
Can a 4th liner be a clutch performer? In his brief career to date, Matthew Highmore has already scored some goals that have been daggers in the backs of several opponents.
Yet -- like Strome and Nylander -- not sure if Highmore fits the definition of clutch play that is all year long rather than sprinkled here and there.
As far as prospects, Pius Suter, Brandon Hagel, Evan Barratt, Andrei Altybarmakyan, and Cam Morrison are prime candidates.
While Suter -- like Kubalik before him -- earned the Gold Helmet in the Swiss elite league for being the top scorer, NHL teams highly coveted him as a free agent for his style of play which is marked by his competitiveness and fearlessness.
Hagel, Barratt, and Altybarmakyan each play with an energetic spirit that aids in their capacity to elevate play and contribute in key situations throughout the game whether as top players or as role players.
Morrison already has a reputation as a clutch performer during his collegiate career at Notre Dame. As a power forward, could he be Bickell 2.0?
Then there’s MacKenzie Entwistle who may demonstrate what it means to be clutch in critical defensive moments that require someone to lock it down and stymie the other team’s best players.
Just like with forwards, clutch performance by blueliners is just as important at both ends of the rink.
While they are the oldest on the team and regressing in their play, two-time Norris trophy winner Duncan Keith and long-time partner Brent Seabrook have the laurels that serve as evidence of being dependable in the clutch.
Connor Murphy, Calvin de Haan, and Nikita Zadorov could have occasional clutch plays up their sleeves but they’ve been in the league long enough for the hockey world to know that they may not have it in them to be consistently clutch performers.
Who then amongst the young D corps could provide clutch play moving ahead?
On offense, I would bet on Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, and Wyatt Kalynuk as most likely to fulfill that quotient.
Boqvist’s comparable has been fellow Swede and offensive dynamo Erik Karlsson. Both are offensively gifted and slick with the puck but defense will never by their calling card.
In contrast, Mitchell, Beaudin, and Kalynuk may be closest to emulating Keith with strong skating and hockey sense to play a solid two-way game predicated on flipping the ice with regularity.
Additionally, Lucas Carlsson and Alex Vlasic stand out as defensive defensemen who could be the next coming of Niklas Hjalmarsson by logging big minutes and shutting down the opposition.
Even though he was a PPG player in juniors as a principal contributor to the London Knights offense, Alec Regula may be groomed instead to be a defensive specialist at the pro level.
Corey Crawford backstopped the Hawks to a pair of championships and -- despite some clunkers -- was rarely the weak link when the team fell short in the regular season and/or postseason.
Instead, Crawford was just as vital to clutch Chicago play over the last decade as Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp.
That’s why they’re the core -- or were in the case of Hjalmarsson, Hossa, Sharp, and Crawford.
Robin Lehner is an interesting case as there is one camp who believes he would be the clutch goalie the Hawks could pass the torch to and another camp that believes he really isn’t all that.
Case in point on the latter, was Lehner’s success as a Golden Knight his own doing or as a beneficiary of the sturdy defense in front of him?
That’s now a moot point with the netminding reins handed over to Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Matt Tomkins.
None of these four horsemen have any track record to show they can be NHL-caliber goalies let alone clutch ones.
At least not yet so time will tell if any have it in them to be so.