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Winging It

August 3, 2021, 3:29 AM ET [305 Comments]
Theo Fox
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

This image was from the summer after Dylan Strome was traded with Brendan Perlini from the Coyotes to the Blackhawks for Nick Schmaltz in November 2018. After being dealt, Strome scored 51 points (17G + 34A) in 58 games which prorates to 72 points in a full season.

In his first full season in Chicago, Strome played another 58 games but decreased to 38 points (12G + 26A). Then this past season, he only scored 17 points (9G + 8A) in 40 games which prorates to a mere 25 points in 58 games and denotes another sharp dip in offensive output.

While his productivity has clearly been on the decline, is Strome really degrading in ability and effectiveness as a top 6 center in the NHL? Does he still have it within him to get back to his 2018-19 scoring rate of 0.88 PPG as a clever playmaker and assist machine?

Head coach Jeremy Colliton has tried Strome on the wing to jump start him but was met with little success. One argument goes against Strome blaming him for not capitalizing on the opportunity. Another argument claims Colliton isn't putting Strome in the best situation to succeed.

In this case, it's likely a little bit from Column A and a little bit from Column B. If the skill exists, then the player needs to flex those proverbial muscles consistently to be an impact player. Yet, is a temporary or even permanent move to wing the magic potion for Strome?

In an interview yesterday discussing several topics, general manager Stan Bowman had the following paraphrased comment about Hawks centers:

"Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Tyler Johnson provide a 'real solid foundation' of centers for the Blackhawks."

Then Bowman subsequently said this about Strome:

"Yeah, he’s played probably his best hockey at center. It's not to say he won’t be playing center going forward, but [he's] also had some time on the wing. We've got a lot of centers. Some are going to be playing on the wing and that’s OK."

What does that last sentence actually mean? Does it mean centers who play wing are going to do just fine with the positional shift? Or the team will survive or endure the not-so-ideal scenario of bumping some centers to wing due to a surplus of pivots on the roster?

In Strome's case at least, he was not "OK" as a winger and that could be a byproduct of his lack of foot speed, strength, and compete level to plow through the opposition and make plays to set up teammates in the offensive zone in a prolific and consistent manner.

What about other centers on the team? Would they be "OK" on the wing? Or is their best position as a center?

* Jonathan Toews is the team's #1 center until his offense starts to slip downgrading him to the role of a defensive center. Once his offense dries up -- as a former Selke Trophy winner -- he would thrive as a 3C excelling in his own end to shut down the other team.

* Kirby Dach was playing wing at the World Junior Championships before the notorious and grotesque wrist injury knocked him out. However, that stint at wing was more the result of being on a WJC team stacked with centers. He's still best off as a top 6 center for the Hawks.

* Tyler Johnson has shown flexibility to play the wing as called upon by his team which he did as a long-standing forward for the Lightning. For the Hawks, he's a prime candidate to snag a middle 6 pivot role but could slide over to wing if others like Strome snags that role.

* Ryan Carpenter is a capable center who can win draws and play in a purely defensive role to agitate the opposition on a checking line. If there's a stronger 4C available like when he played with former teammate David Kampf, Carpenter still provides value as a winger.

* Adam Gaudette has played pivot in his hockey career prior to the pros but is now better suited to be on the wing. If the Hawks were absolutely thin on centers, he could step in on an emergency basis and hold his own for a bit but shouldn't be relied upon as a long-term option.

* Jujhar Khaira is in a similar boat as Gaudette in that he can play up the middle if the coaches need him to but his skill package and style of play are more in the mold of a rough-and-tumble winger than a 4C tabbed with the duty to shadow the other team's best players.

* Philipp Kurashev is a natural center who thinks and plays like one as well. While he's able to play either wing, his above average skating, intelligence, playmaking, shooting, fearlessness, and defensive acumen make him a viable contender as the team's 3C of the future.

* MacKenzie Entwistle could be the heir apparent to Kampf as a defensively-minded forward who can also take faceoffs, battle in the corners and along the wall, and execute the small plays that make a difference in games. Entwistle has underrated offensive ability, too.

* Henrik Borgstrom is much like Kurashev with his skating, playmaking, and shooting but could be a step below in his compete level and capacity to push the pace especially when he doesn't possess the puck. Could a shift to wing be a method to carve a top 6 niche for him?

* Lukas Reichel is also similar to Kurashev but different in that he may be most prodigious on either the left wing or right wing, wherever the team needs him most. Regardless, Reichel is a resilient go-getter who has no fear as he pursues the puck and takes hits to make plays.


Jersey Numbers

It was inevitable that Marc-Andre Fleury would wear his customary #29 as a member of the Blackhawks. It remains to be seen, though, what numbers Jake McCabe, Khaira, and Johnson will wear. Seth and Caleb Jones will wear #4 and #82 respectively.

* For McCabe, #19 and now #29 are taken.
* For Khaira, #16 is available.
* For Johnson, #9 is retired.


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