It’s negligent to discuss the 2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks without including Kevin Lankinen’s contributions. It’s not just that the netminder impressed throughout his rookie season, it’s that he propelled into Chicago’s No. 1 spot seemingly overnight. What’s more, is what he then did with the opportunity.
RELATED – Blackhawks 2020-21 Player Grades
What Lankinen was able to string together, as his team actively rebuilt in front of him, was nothing short of remarkable. Let’s dig a little deeper and grade his efforts accordingly.
As we know, this past season came with some unique restructuring, such as the introduction of taxi squads. While every franchise had the same opportunity granted as a result, some were able to leverage it a lot more effectively.
Chicago, for instance, was one such city that took full advantage of this extended branch to their roster. This was already scheduled to be a year centered around their youth, so making it easier for the club to inject prospects into their lineup was a bonus.
While it wasn’t as ideal for players who spent more time waiting for an opportunity while riding within the taxi squad, as opposed to further developing at any level of play, that was far from the reality Lankinen ended up living.
2020-21 Stats Summary
Barely a week into the season, Lankinen was promoted from being a third-string option to Chicago’s starter. Despite his debut including five goals against en route to an overtime loss, the performance he was able to put forth kept him in the club’s active lineup the rest of the way – a decision that benefited all involved.
Lankinen ended the year with a record of 17-14-5. That alone proves how valuable he was to the Blackhawks, who went 24-25-7 as a unit.
He accumulated a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.01, a save percentage (SV%) of .909, an expected goals against (xGA) of 94.71, a goals saved above expected (GSAx) of minus-14.3, and two shutouts (SO).
Without context, these numbers may not scream out that it was a stellar season. So it’s important to consider that Lankinen accomplished what he did behind a rebuilding squad, as a rookie who was continually called upon all year long.
January: 3-1-2, 1.97 GAA, .937 SV%
February: 6-2-1, 2.93 GAA, .917 SV%
March: 4-5-1, 2.81 GAA, .917 SV%
April: 3-5-1, 3.87 GAA, .871 SV%
May: 1-1-0, 3.59 GAA, .914 SV%
It would be accurate to say his stat line experienced a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but that doesn’t mean its highs don’t deserve their rightful recognition.
When it was all said and done, the story he was able to write is beyond respectable.
Contributing to a Collective
From a hot start spanning his first couple of months, to a follow-up that faced struggles, to his balanced conclusion, Lankinen’s output mirrored the efforts of the roster that surrounded him.
Chicago was a team that overachieved into a postseason position, thanks in large part to the play of rookies like Lankinen. Yet, they then collectively forced their way out of contention by failing to put forth an effort worthy of maintaining that spot.
There’s only so much any individual member of a lineup can be held accountable for in a team sport. Lankinen pulled his weight and did so effectively, especially amid such circumstances.
Lankinen effectively managed what was asked of him and performed as a true No. 1 the whole way through. He faced the most shots (1,204) and made the most saves (1,095) among all rookie goaltenders, while his peaks in play aligned him with the league’s elite.
Grading the Full Scope of Work
Relied upon heavily by the Blackhawks, Lankinen participated in over 65% of their games played throughout 2020-21. That’s a hefty workload for any goaltender, let alone one getting their feet wet in this league for the first time. Yet, he remained poised and ready. That, in and of itself, earns Lankinen a good grade in my book.
When you look at what Lankinen was able to achieve, it becomes even more evident that he was the best candidate for the starter’s job. Although he was the youngest and most inexperienced of the three goalies to suit up for the Blackhawks at the start of this past season, the 25-year-old would go on to maintain a better overall stat line than his counterparts.
And although he experienced downs that would have barely earned him a passing grade, his ups were beyond honour roll worthy. They were far more frequent, too.
Simply stated, the Blackhawks were more competitive and successful than they would have otherwise been, if not for Lankinen. With a bright future ahead, it’s in Chicago’s best interest to secure his talents for as many years as they can.
Final grade: B+
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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.
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