Welcome back to The Hockey Writer’s Chicago Blackhawks’ roundtable, December edition! While it’s only the third month of the season, it’s become abundantly clear the Blackhawks are on the way to their third consecutive campaign without a playoff berth. It’s not fun when your team isn’t finding success, but the show must go on.
The Blackhawks might not have the depth to make a run in 2019-20, but they must find a way to make this season productive. To grow and build for the future. In that spirit, let’s talk about a few of the kids that look to be a part of that future. Today Meghan Dillon, Adam Cumbee, Scott Schultz, Greg Boysen, and Gail Kauchak discuss the fates of the Blackhawks’ two hottest youngsters, as well as other reasons to keep watching.
In the wake of injuries to Duncan Keith and Calvin de Haan, defenseman Adam Boqvist was recently recalled from the Rockford IceHogs. This is the 19-year-old’s second stint with the big club, having played six games in November before being sent down to the AHL for further seasoning. But what about this time around? Should Boqvist stay or go when other defensemen are healthy enough to return?
Should Boqvist Stay or Go?
I think Boqvist should go back to the IceHogs when Keith and de Haan return, but he should definitely be on the Blackhawks’ radar. Keith and Brent Seabrook aren’t going to be around forever, and it’s important to invest in the organization’s younger defensemen.
Since Keith’s injury will likely have him out for a while, Boqvist also has plenty of time to prove whether he’s ready at the NHL level. If not, he can always go back to the AHL and improve on his defensive skills before the Blackhawks are ready to have him full-time.
I’d like to see him stay, but conditionally. The length of Keith’s absence holds the key to this answer. While he’s gone, ideally one would like to see head coach Jeremy Colliton take the training wheels off this time around to see what Boqvist can really do. Throw him on the top defensive pairing. Let him quarterback the top power play unit. See if he excels where Erik Gustafssson has not.
If he does well, keep him up even after Keith returns and let him develop. If he’s shown he can grow at the highest level, there’s no reason he shouldn’t let him stay with the big club. If he struggles and shows glaring holes in his game, then at least they know they tried. The defense is a train wreck at the moment, and at some point they’re going to have to take a look at what they’ve truly got.
Absolutely keep Boqvist up (if for nothing else to give us headaches typing his name without a “u” after the “q”). I would think the bigger question would be, why not? At this point in time, it certainly can’t make things any worse. It would seem the experience would be a benefit, and why not have the growing pains occur when it really doesn’t matter?
If the Blackhawks were as good as the front office tried to make us believe heading into the season and were actually in contention for a playoff spot, I’d say wait and see how Boqvist plays before making a decision. However, since this group is far from being a playoff team, he should be up to stay.
When he returned to Rockford after his first taste of the NHL, Boqvist was much more confident with and without the puck. He’s made progress since the start of the season, but at this point you might as well let him succeed and fail at the NHL level.
My only issue is Colliton’s coaching style and systems force his players to think too much on the ice instead of just reacting to the game as it unfolds. I’m not sure that is the best way to develop your top young defenseman, but that might not be a problem for much longer.
He’s made a few mistakes of late. But so has Dennis Gilbert. And Gustafsson, and Seabrook. Philip Holm of the IceHogs could be another option, and perhaps he would be more reliable and consistent. But his ceiling isn’t nearly as high.
Playoff hopes are over. So why not throw Boqvist into the deeper NHL waters and let him learn on the fly? Stop protecting him and let him try to swim sooner rather than later.
Keep the kid.
One youngster we know is staying up with the Blackhawks is the 2019 third overall draft pick, Kirby Dach. But the skilled, albeit rather green, forward has been relegated to play among the bottom-six forwards. Many would argue he’s not getting enough playing time or opportunities with his current designation. In your opinion, how would you suggest the Blackhawks best utilize Dach?
Dach should get more ice time, but I also think he’s doing well in his bottom-six role. The lines always change throughout the season, and he’s likely to get more ice time as the season goes on. The lines should be all about chemistry with linemates and who performs best together. I’d rather have him in a bottom-six role scoring more goals than not performing as well on the top line.
Much like Boqvist, I’d love to see the Blackhawks release the shackles and let Dach run free. He has excelled in just about every area they’ve asked him to.
Similar to the way Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were thrown into the fire 12 years ago, it’s time to up his role and his minutes and see what he really can do. If he’s thrown into a top-six role, he will be surrounded by elite talent that should help expedite the learning curve. The kid is good; now it’s time to see how good he really is.
Echoing the same sentiment as with Boqvist – why not move him up? Throw him in the deep end of the pool, put him on the ice at the same time as two first-ballot Hall of Fame locks as much as you can, and reap the benefits of that down the road when the team once again becomes a contender.
Skilled players, such as Dach, should be playing with other skilled players. Your number one center of the future should not be playing in between Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith. No offense to those two veterans, who do a fine job in their role. But Dach is not a fourth-liner and should not be used as one.
Ideally, he’d be on the second line with Alex DeBrincat and Kane, but that is the only spot in the lineup where Dylan Strome can produce. Which leaves Dach the option of playing with guys like David Kampf, Dylan Sikura and Alex Nylander. Not ideal, but still better than being on the fourth line.
I said go for it with Boqvist. But the situation is a little different with Dach, and with the team as a whole. While the Blackhawks are rather depleted on defensemen, they actually have a pretty solid top-six group. Dominik Kubalik has recently been inserted on the top line. Along with Toews and Brandon Saad, these three have clicked and are dangerous every night. DeBrincat, Strome and Kane have their troubles defensively, but they’re a constant threat in the offensive end.
With that in mind, I’m ok with Dach being sheltered. He doesn’t have to play against the opponent’s top lines, and can therefore find some confidence. Besides, he’s built chemistry with both Carpenter and Smith, who know how to feed him for good opportunities. And he’s still pretty green at center in the big leagues. Playing on the third and fourth lines gives him a chance to get acclimated in that respect.
If anything, give Dach more time on the power play. That would be a good place to give him some quality time with the more skilled players. I think he will eventually be transitioned to a top-six role moving forward. It will be fun to watch the progression.
We’re not trying to sugarcoat anything here. It’s time to be realistic and admit the Blackhawks aren’t a very good team right now. It makes it pretty hard to watch most nights. But there’s a silver lining to everything, and diehard fans still want reasons to keep tuning in. With their playoff hopes a longshot, what is your top reason to keep watching the Blackhawks?
Reasons to Keep Watching
We can all agree it’s difficult to watch right now. As an eternal optimist, I think it’s important to watch (or at least pay close attention) because you never know when it’s going to get better. The St. Louis Blues were at the bottom of the league this time last year but managed to hoist the Stanley Cup in June. Plenty of internal factors led to their victory, and it wasn’t an easy task for them. But it goes to show anything can happen in this league.
If it was later in the season, I could understand people wanting to tune out entirely. But there is still plenty of time for the Blackhawks to improve, and that’s why fans should stay tuned to watch.
The up-and-down nature of this time for the Blackhawks is extremely frustrating. As a diehard fan, tuning in to every game has become a challenge. There’s nothing worse than turning on a game and realizing you showed up but your team didn’t. Yet I keep coming back for more.
In keeping with our mailbag’s theme, the youth movement keeps my attention. It may be a lost season, but seeing the development of players like Strome, DeBrincat, Dach, Boqvist, and even a guy like Sikura helps me look towards the future when the present is so bleak. It provides hope. It also helps when the team has one of the best players in the world in Kane, and two goalies who can stop 40+ shots on any given night. There’s not a lot to look forward to, but at least there’s something!
This is a difficult question for me to answer, as I have been watching the Blackhawks (through good and bad) since the first game I saw at the Old Barn with Tony Esposito in net. I will say, aside from being a diehard fan, what keeps me watching is the young talent that we are seeing develop. And when they do I think we are going to see some exciting hockey.
As my kids would text me – TrUsT ThE PrOcEsS.
The two biggest reason to watch were tackled in our first two questions. Boqvist and Dach are the best two prospects in the Blackhawks’ organization and will need to reach their full potential if the team wants to start competing again in the future. The only other reason to tune in is to see two very good goaltenders playing at the top of their game.
Otherwise, unless you like shameless plugs of Eddie Olyczyk’s book, Pat Foley drooling over hit stats, and a studio crew trying to tell you the Blackhawks are playing really hard when most of the time that is not the case, there is not much reason to tune in.
I keep watching because I want to see who really cares. Who’s willing to dig deep and still battle even though it’s a lost cause? Who has enough pride to say, enough is enough, I’m going to give it my all no matter what?
Those are the guys who are in it for the long haul. Against all odds. Who’s going to step up? That’s what I’ll be watching for.
So there you have it. It seems be to a unanimous decision we’re excited to see Boqvist and Dach progress and develop. In what capacity that is remains to be seen. And there are still reasons to watch the Chicago Blackhawks, even if they’re not very good right now.
Here’s to learning, growing, and building. And perhaps some winning.
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Let’s put it this way; she’s probably reading and writing about hockey instead of cooking and cleaning. Shh, don’t tell her husband!
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.