It’s no secret that the Chicago Blackhawks are still a ways away from being considered contenders. However, that doesn’t mean those who are there to play won’t be putting in the work, night in and night out. After all, these are professional athletes that want to win. Even if their circumstances make that a tougher achievement to reach.
As this revised Blackhawks roster began to take shape in the offseason, certain names appeared poised to break out in a meaningful fashion. What wasn’t yet as obvious, though, was that there could be some surprise performances deserving of their slice of the spotlight through 2022-23.
These three Blackhawks are standing out for all the right reasons at the moment. Despite having only played a few games thus far this season, they deserve recognition for their immediate impact.
After missing the 2019-20 season entirely, supporters anxiously awaited Jonathan Toews‘ return in 2020-21. First and foremost, that meant his health was where it needed to be. Secondly, having him back would enhance the leadership of a Blackhawks team that desperately needed guidance.
Plus, Toews was still known to produce at a noticeable rate before being sidelined so the hope was that he’d pick up where he left off.
Unfortunately, Toews was only able to collect 12 goals and 25 assists through 71 contests in 2021-22. Both are the lowest total in each regard throughout his career, thus far. Just as the Blackhawks underwhelmed as a collective last season, so did their captain from an individual perspective.
Entering 2022-23, even amid Toews expressing his frustration with Chicago’s current path, the 34-year-old veteran showed up ready to improve upon last year’s contributions.
Making the most of more efficient time management tactics, given that Toews is only averaging around 15:30 per night at the moment, he’s already notched two goals through his first three games. One of which was a power play marker. As a stark contrast, it took him 27 contests to accomplish the same last year.
Riding an impressive faceoff percentage (FO%), consistently winning more draws than he’s losing, is nothing new for Toews. What would be, however, is adding a 50-goal season to his resume. Especially since he’s yet to even hit 40, through his 15 years in the league.
Safe to say, contrary to the 54-goal pace he’s set early on this season, Toews will not be joining the 50-goal club by the end of 2022-23. However, that he’s already producing in such a manner that permits discussing that potential is a positive in and of itself. Especially for the plethora of prospects looking to him for the mentorship necessary to proper this rebuild forward.
The point being is that Toews doesn’t have to score every time he hits the ice to maintain a meaningful impact. Though, that he’s finding his way back to the scoresheet more often these days is certainly a welcomed sight in Chicago.
Coming back the other way in the trade that sent Alex Nylander to the Pittsburgh Penguins mid-way through 2021-22, what Sam Lafferty would bring to the Blackhawks wasn’t immediately obvious. Especially from an offensive perspective.
With nearly 100 games played as a Penguin since 2019-20, Lafferty had only accumulated 21 points. Managing mostly bottom-six minutes while there, he was relied upon in a way that aligned. Sidney Crosby was there to score, whereas Pittsburgh expected increased physicality out of Lafferty. As evidenced by the 218 hits he landed while there.
Lafferty’s initial stint with the Blackhawks saw him achieve in a similar manner. His 11 points and 103 hits to cap off 2021-22 helped him earn a two-year extension with the club, while foreshadowing that Chicago would see more of the same.
Yet, the 27-year-old has started 2022-23 with a more versatile approach in mind. Rather than limiting himself to merely offering an infused energy into Chicago’s lineup, Lafferty is making a case for being seen as a producer.
After avoiding any offense through his first two games of the year, Lafferty put up two goals and an assist in his third. A total that placed him among Chicago’s leaders early on. Although it’s unlikely that he’ll remain there, that’s not the point.
What is, however, is that Lafferty enjoying a three-point night with Chicago suggests that the club can expect to extract more than initially advertised out of the depth addition.
That said, going pointless two games in a row only to break out in the one that followed can be looked at as inconsistent and unreliable. Yet, if Lafferty can maintain that very pattern and put up any number of points every third game of the season, he’ll set a career-high of 27 points.
Meanwhile, Lafferty’s hit count is already on track to maintain what’s anticipated in that regard, with a projected year-end total of 137.
After six years with the Dallas Stars, the organization that drafted him 29th overall in 2013, Jason Dickinson was shipped off to the Vancouver Canucks for the 2021-22 campaign. Managing a serviceable role for both organizations, especially in terms of special teams, his annual production levels have been modest at best. Dickinson accumulated 74 points through his first seven years in the NHL.
Dickinson was acquired by the Blackhawks in a preseason trade that sent Riley Stillman to the Canucks. A move that came as a surprise to the 27-year-old, who is undoubtedly that much more motivated to be in Chicago as a result.
Having to face the reality that entering a rebuild comes with cohesion concerns, the centreman has an opportunity to shape that scenario to his advantage. Helping the Blackhawks’ lines gel in a manner more evident as a result of his presence would elevate his impact in Chicago to a degree unattainable with Dallas or Vancouver.
After a relocation delay forced Dickinson to miss the start of the season, during which the Blackhawks went 0-2-0 without him, he didn’t waste any time during his debut. Dickinson accumulated three points in his first game as a Blackhawk, helping his new franchise earn their first victory of 2022-23.
What’s more, Lafferty was his most common linemate that night. With both producing as they did during Dickinson’s first game there, that certainly helps build a case for how impactful the centre could turn out to be in Chicago.
“He’s in all the right spots,” Lafferty said. “So, it makes our job as wingers pretty easy on the breakouts. Hopefully we can keep out on some more chemistry together.”
Dickinson won’t be enjoying three-point nights the rest of the way for a total of 237 by season’s end. However, he’s quickly establishing himself as a potential go-to producer, capable of bringing out the best in those that play alongside him.
If first impressions matter as much as most say they do, then Dickinson has surely done more than enough to make a good one in Chicago.
Full Calendar Ahead for Chicago
Of course, it’s relevant to note that Chicago is only three games into their 2022-23 schedule. Skeptics will be quick to point that out, so there’s no sense in trying to hide it. Yet, that doesn’t mean that Toews, Lafferty, or Dickinson are any less deserving of the credit due following their strong starts this season.
Besides, a realistic outcome for this club is that they’ll miss the playoffs after battling for the bottom of the Central Division. With that type of cloud hovering over their campaign, there’s no harm in celebrating any clear skies they come across along the way.
Although we’ll have to wait and see if Toews, Lafferty, and Dickinson can even come close to maintaining the early pace each has set, the show they’re putting on thus far has made it easier to ignore the struggles that lie ahead. A perspective that fans are surely hoping to hold on to, as long as possible.
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Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.