Blackhawks’ Banter: 2021 Player Awards

The Chicago Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL started the season in October. Now, the league is looking to turn the page into the new year of 2022. With each new year comes new goals and expectations. Professional sports can be very finicky. From one game to the next, you’re always witnessing something different. You could be witnessing greatness or disappointment from any team on any given night. In two months, the Blackhawks have shown all of that and more. Going into next year will be critical for the Blackhawks as they will try to continue their upward trend of a 10-6-2 record under new head-coach Derek King.

This seems like a good opportunity for our Blackhawks’ team comprised of myself, Gail KauchakGreg Boysen, and Shaun Filippelli to talk about our observations and awards from the season thus far on our weekly show, Blackhawks’ Banter. Here is a preview of what will be discussed.

Gail: Blackahawks’ Most Surprising Player

Brandon Hagel

We all knew headed into the 2021-22 season that Hagel would be a solid member of the Blackhawks. He’s a great utility player that can play throughout the lineup and in all situations. And he brings that combination of energy and grit that very few players can. But I don’t think anyone expected him to have the kind of impact he’s had so far.

Former head coach Jeremy Colliton utilized Hagel mainly on the third line. And let’s face it; that’s where most of us had him pegged to be the most effective. But when King took over, he placed the versatile winger on the second line with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. He’s been on that line with Toews and other rotating partners ever since. He even went along for the ride when King gave them a six-game stint on the top line with Patrick Kane. Hagel hasn’t looked at all out of place as a member of the top-six.

Brandon Hagel, Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon Hagel, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He’s accumulated five goals and six assists in his top-line deployment. Heck, he registered three goals and two assists in just 12 games on the third line. So one can hardly complain about him anywhere in the lineup. Overall, his eight goals are second on the team, his eight assists are tied for fourth, and his 16 points are also fourth. That’s impressive, considering one would expect names like Toews, Kubalik, and even Kirby Dach to be ahead of him in these categories.

Scott Powers of The Athletic recently wrote a piece about how many of Hagel’s analytics point to him being among the top players in the NHL. He doesn’t totally stand out in one specific area, but the sum of his parts makes him quite the value, especially for being in the first year of a three-year contract with just a $1.5 million cap hit. (from ‘Analytics point to Blackhawks’ Brandon Hagel being among the NHL’s top all-around players,’ The Athletic, 12/22/21)

Hagel’s strengths include scoring above expected projections, providing good zone entries, and feeding teammates in the slot. Here are a few other tidbits from Blackhawks’ Insider Charlie Roumeliotis.

  • At 5-on-5 play, Hagel leads the Blackhawks in goals per 60 minutes (1.22) and points per 60 (2.27).
  • The Blackhawks have scored the first goal 14 times this season. Hagel has scored five of those goals.

While I’m not surprised Hagel is doing well, I’m surprised he’s doing as well as he is, all while taking advantage of his elevated role. Let’s hope he can keep it up!

Greg: Blackhawks’ Most Disappointing Player

Kirby Dach

While the Blackhawks have had a few underachieving players this season, Dach has to be considered the most disappointing. He has five goals and 13 points with 52 shots on goal in 30 games. His Corsi For percentage (CF%) is at 48.9 despite starting 57% of his shifts in the offensive zone. The youngster continues to struggle at the faceoff dot, winning just 32.7% of his draws. These numbers are just not good enough for a player drafted third overall to be the center of the future. Yes, he is just 20 years old and has just 112 games of his NHL experience under his belt, but this was supposed to be the season he takes the jump towards being an elite player. We have seen flashes of his potential; however, he needs to have a more significant impact on the game.

Dach has 15 goals and 31 points in 112 games, which doesn’t fare well compared to other players picked third overall. Tim Stutzle, selected third in 2020, already has 17 goals and 44 points in 81 games for the Ottawa Senators. Pierre Luc-Dubois, third-overall in 2016, had 33 goals and 74 points in his first 112 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Dach’s teammate, Dylan Strome, taken third behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in 2015, had 25 goals and 68 points through 112 games with the Arizona Coyotes and was considered a major disappointment.

Related: Blackhawks Need Kirby Dach to Show More

We shouldn’t be calling Dach a bust just yet. However, that tag will be justified unless he starts being a difference-maker soon.

Shaun: Blackhawks’ MVP

Alex DeBrincat

It would be easy to crown Kane the Blackhawks’ MVP thus far, given that he’s finding ways to continue leading the team in point totals. However, despite his ability to make his way onto any given game sheet, a newer generation of stars on this roster have begun to demand the spotlight. And that’s been even more apparent this season, with the increased impact of Alex DeBrincat. Second in point totals to only Kane at the moment, it’s the type of production that DeBrincat is accumulating that pushes his importance to a level beyond the rest of Chicago’s lineup. DeBrincat’s 17 goals lead the team, as do his six on the power play and two game-winners.

Related: Blackhawks 2020-21 Player Grades: Alex DeBrincat

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

DeBrincat is currently riding a shooting percentage of 18.1, without any signs of that being unsustainable the rest of the way. What’s more, while there’s no arguing the chemistry between Kane and DeBrincat, it’s not as though DeBrincat has relied upon Kane’s influence to be impactful in his own regard. As evidenced by the fact that he’s helped generate production even while on lines that didn’t also include Kane. Barely 24 years old and working his way towards his prime, we’re witnessing an elevation in DeBrincat’s game that’s yet to slow down. He’s managing his highest average ice time, playing in all scenarios, and scoring at a 46-goal pace – a career-high, if achieved. Although the team has been enjoying better collective results in recent months thanks to several key contributors, DeBrincat continues to be the most important Blackhawk thus far throughout 2021-22.

Brooke: Blackhawks’ Best Defenseman

Seth Jones

Jones has pleasantly surprised me thus far. He started the season very shaky, which made me skeptical, but he has stepped up and has helped the whole Blackhawks’ defense, as a whole, turn the corner. Something that sticks out right away is what a workhorse he is. He has that Duncan Keith-like stamina because he has been able to muster a lot of minutes. He leads the team in TOI (time on ice) with playing over 25 minutes a night. He leads the Blackhawks in assists at 20 and is tied with DeBrincat for second-best on the team with 23 points. Among other NHL defenseman, he has ranked top-10 in the league in TOI (fifth), points (ninth), and shots (10th). He has been a player who is consistently on the ice when the Hawks score a goal. The downside of that is that he is a minus-6 on the season. However, because of the amount of time that he plays, that comes with the territory.

Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks
Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Jones still has his moments, but for the most part, he has been solid. He has really come into his own with being able to extend plays five-on-five and on the power play. He also comes up big with blocked shots and hits. Overall, he has been doing what the Blackhawks expect of him, and I hope he can carry that into the new year as well.

We have a lot more to discuss about the Blackhawks’ highs, lows, and expectations heading into 2022. Make sure to tune in, subscribe to our Youtube Channel, and share your thoughts with us! New episodes drop on Tuesdays!

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