Prior to this year’s first puck drop, I put my premonitions to the test with some bold preseason predictions centered around what to expect from the Chicago Blackhawks throughout 2020-21. While my midway grade had me poised for an honor roll finish, how would they hold up by season’s end?
With all 56 games of their shortened season now complete, I’m here to unravel my final results.
DeBrincat Leapfrogs Kane to Lead Team in Points
Alex DeBrincat is clearly a star. Anyone who’s watched him play can say that with confidence, despite having only three years’ worth of NHL experience prior to the 2020-21 season.
It’s an understatement that 2019-20 was a down year for DeBrincat, as evidenced by his shooting percentage of only 8.7. However, it’s not that he appeared any less determined. It was simply a case of bad puck luck that kept most of his out of the opposing net. So, it felt like a safe bet to assume that a fresh start would elicit a bounce-back campaign.
Well, I took this proclamation a step further, foreshadowing that he’d skyrocket right to the top of Chicago’s roster. Which meant he’d have to speed past Kane on his way.
Through 52 contests, DeBrincat was able to amass 32 goals and 24 assists this past season. His pace of 1.08 points per game is a career-high, while his goal-scoring prowess placed him third league-wide, behind only Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid.
Landing in second on Chicago’s point totals list, who was the only teammate DeBrincat failed to bypass? Kane, of course. That said, while this prediction ended up being objectively incorrect, bonus points are warranted.
DeBrincat bested Kane in several key individual categories. Such as goals, plus/minus, game-winners, shorthanded points, shooting percentage, blocks, and hits. It’s clear that DeBrincat’s game elevated drastically, which was the premise of this bold prediction after all.
Suter Stands Out During Rookie Campaign
Chicago has been known to land some sneaky-good overseas signings in recent years. So it was far from surprising when they enhanced their roster by signing the reigning Swiss League MVP, Pius Suter.
Before 2020-21, Suter last played North American hockey with the Guelph Storm of the OHL back in 2014-15. After going undrafted on this side of the globe, he took his talents to Europe. When you look at the 24-year-old’s yearly stat lines, regardless of the league, he was lighting up, and it’s obvious that his game plan centers around producing.
I expected his transition to the smaller ice surface to yield the same such results. Knowing that Chicago was poised to see a revolving door of prospects come and go all year long, I name-dropped Suter as one to watch out for.
Suter earned 27 points this year — 14 goals and 13 assists — through 55 contests. Good enough to place him fourth among Chicago’s most productive. His three game-winning goals were a nice touch, too. Suter wasted little time proving his ability to step up as a go-to for necessary production.
These numbers not only mean he was among the league’s most productive first-year stars all season long, but they also prove my prediction to be an accurate one. His prowess may have seemed streaky at times, but accomplishing what he did throughout the entirety of his debut deserves recognition.
In an effort to garner extra credit, it’s timely to note that my preseason guess even stipulated that Suter would be in the Calder Memorial Trophy conversation. As witnessed, his play through most of the year placed him right within that mix.
Delia Proves Poised for Starter’s Role
Corey Crawford was no longer a Blackhawk, which meant Chicago was left with a goaltending tandem of Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban. Collectively, the duo had played less than 100 games in the NHL before 2020-21.
After signing with the Blackhawks in July 2017, Delia spent most of the years that followed with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs and had only entered 18 contests with Chicago prior to this season. Yet, he seemed like a calm and reliable presence within that small sample size.
Even with far less NHL experience than Subban, who already had over 60 games played heading into 2020-21, it felt like the time was right for Deila’s patience to pay off finally. I knew better than to paint an unrealistic picture of goaltending success, but I was confident Delia would be the one to take control of the crease and hang on throughout.
Delia only ended up starting five match-ups with Chicago this year, accumulating a record of 1-3-1. His 2020-21 stat line also includes a save percentage (SV%) of .902 and goals-against average (GAA) of 3.59.
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Safe to say, this prediction appeared destined for failure from the moment Delia suffered back-to-back losses early on in the season. It wasn’t just that he was on the wrong side of those scores. It was also the five goals he allowed in each, saving only 63 of 73 shots faced.
While I’ll gracefully accept defeat with this one, Chicago waited too long to let Delia redeem himself. It took nearly four months before he got back into action. Which is a shame, as his 1-1-1 record and .924 SV% down the stretch showcased his abilities far better than the two-game sample size earlier on was able to.
While there’s no debate that Kevin Lankinen has earned the number one spot on this roster, we’ll now be left wondering if Delia was the missing piece needed to strengthen Chicago’s goaltending struggles through the latter half of their year.
Blackhawks Don’t Finish Last in Central
The Blackhawks made it clear where they were setting the bar when they explicitly announced the start of their rebuild. As such, it left little to the imagination when it came to what fans should expect of their favorite club.
That said, I had a hard time buying into a reality that would include the Blackhawks failing to battle. One of the things I appreciate most about this organization is their passion, regardless of where the odds place them. So I certainly wasn’t going to let some less than ideal circumstances cloud that reliable assessment.
Despite the veteran names who moved on, their lineup depleted due to injury, and knowing a mostly inexperienced lineup would be leading the way; I was confident the Blackhawks wouldn’t fall to the bottom of the division. Both because it felt like some other clubs would still be worse and knowing that Chicago isn’t a city to raise the white flag.
The fact that the Blackhawks earned a record of 23-25-6 after most had written them off before the year even began has to be a win in and of itself for the organization. Either way, seeing them settle in 6th place proves me right on this one.
2020-21 was a rollercoaster ride for fans. What began worse than anyone had assumed ended up turning into a playoff race through a good majority of their schedule. While some of that resulted from overachieving, that doesn’t diminish the fact that they were still the ones out there accomplishing.
There is obviously a lot of progress necessary for this franchise if they anticipate better results in the years to come. A mostly youthful roster has some growing up to do, potential leaders need to takeover those veteran roles, and this team has to learn how to hold a lead.
Yet, with all that said, Chicago’s cast of characters can hold their heads high. Demanding respect from the best, going 3-4-1 against the Discover Central champion Carolina Hurricanes, is just one example of how this rebuilding roster avoided that embarrassing last-place finish.
While those who expected less will say Chicago’s future looks bright, I can confidently conclude that my mostly optimistic predictions held up in one way or another.
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