The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to make moves as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches March 21. Chicago’s interim general manager Kyle Davidson made two minor trades to start things off in December. The first one was trading goaltender Malcolm Subban, and the other was acquiring forward Sam Lafferty from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both moves seemed forgettable in the fact that they weren’t going to have a significant impact on each other’s rosters, or so that may have seemed. Now, the Lafferty trade is having a positive impact on the Blackhawks.
Lafferty’s Background in Pittsburgh
Lafferty was a fourth-round pick of the Penguins in 2014.
Since being drafted, his career in Pittsburgh had its ups and downs. He made his NHL debut in the 2019-20 season, where he registered six goals, seven assists, 13 points, and was a plus-5 in 50 games. Since then, he had become the odd man out. He was either on the taxi squad, with their affiliate team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League (AHL), or was a healthy scratch. His zig-zag call-ups didn’t help with consistency or point production. Overall, he had six goals, 15 assists, and 21 points in 94 games during his three-year tenure in Pittsburgh. He appeared in 10 games with the Pens this season before being traded.
Currently, the Penguins are a top-10 team in the NHL. Because they have enough depth, Lafferty’s chance of sticking with their lineup was slim. So, the Blackhawks acquired him on Jan. 5 in exchange for forward Alex Nylander. It was a clean swap of players that both needed a fresh start.
Lafferty’s Blackhawks’ Tenure
Lafferty was inserted into the Blackhawks’ lineup with low expectations, and for him, that was a good thing. Because the Blackhawks and Penguins are at different competitive stages, the expectations for him may have been higher in Pittsburgh than in Chicago. This gave him a nice opportunity to slide in with other players that are also looking to make an impact with the Blackhawks, such as Philipp Kurashev, Henrik Borgstrom, and MacKenzie Entwistle. Lafferty’s Chicago tenure had an unlucky start. He ended up getting placed into COVID-19 protocol one day after the trade, therefore, he had to miss his first three games. He made his Hawks’ debut against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 13 that resulted in a 3-2 overtime win.
Lafferty is noted as a bottom-six forward. When he first slotted into the Blackhawks’ lineup, he was placed on the fourth line, which was the correct spot to help him get acclimated to his new surroundings. He didn’t stay there long, though, and he worked his way up to the third line and eventually found himself a home on the second line alongside Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. His chemistry with Toews, especially, has been a pleasant surprise. Now, he’s in a peculiar situation with Toews out in concussion protocol because they need Lafferty’s contributions in multiple facets.
When Toews is in the lineup, Lafferty takes a wing role. With Toews out, the Blackhawks continuously rotate Lafferty from second-line right wing; to third-line center. That can seem like a recipe for disaster, but he has done a good job playing with everyone.
Lafferty’s Game Style
I have liked Lafferty’s game with the Blackhawks because he has become useful in many areas. He has become reliable in the faceoff dot, the penalty kill, and can contribute on offense. What I like about his game is that he plays at a fast pace. Because the new NHL look is highly focused on speed, it seemed like Blackhawks were getting thoroughly out-skated most nights. That’s not the case with Lafferty, and because of his speed, he is usually in the right place at the right time. He is always racing to the front of the net and looking for the rebound from the opposing goaltender.
Although he has only played in 10 games so far, he has gotten a lot of prime chances off of the rebound that could have resulted in several goals. He got his first goal as a Blackhawk against the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 26 that extended the Hawks’ lead to 4-0 in the first period. That entire goal sequence shows that noticeable, fast skill he has been bringing on a nightly basis.
Besides being able to provide some offense, he has been very good at the faceoff dot. In 10 games, he carries a 45 percent success rate. But going into the All-Star break, he has had great numbers:
- Jan. 26 @ Detroit- 100% faceoffs won
- Jan. 28 vs. Colorado Avalanche – 70% faceoffs won
- Jan. 31 vs. Vancouver Canucks – 67% faceoffs won
The Blackhawks have also added Lafferty into their struggling penalty kill which ranks 27th in the league with a 74.6% success rate. I think he has been noticeable in that role and has provided some extra aggressiveness to the unit.
More importantly, he has made a fan out of Blackhawks’ head coach Derek King. When asked about Lafferty, he stated, “It’s that speed and energy. [He] bangs bodies, pushes the other teams back. He keeps them on their toes, too. He’s like a bigger version of [Brandon] Hagel, [albeit] maybe not quite as skilled… I like him. I could use a couple more players like him and Hagel.“ (from ‘Blackhawks’ Sam Lafferty making immediate impact with speed, energy’ – Chicago Sun-Times – 01/30/2022)
Lafferty’s Future in Chicago
Lafferty is an interesting case because he isn’t a natural, second-line player. He is better suited for a third-or-fourth-line role because his skill set better reflects that. However, the Blackhawks are lacking talent and don’t have a lot of players that can properly fill a top-line role as he has. He represents what the Blackhawks have been as a team all season. They’re young, inexperienced, and growing. Therefore, he can make a name for himself alongside everyone else because he is in the same boat. Moreover, he seamlessly fits into the lineup and doesn’t look out of place. He’s 26-years-old and will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. His salary-cap hit is only $750,000.
Lafferty has shown he can play various roles when needed. He can hit (21 hits in 10 games), impact the special teams, faceoff dot, and the bottom-six. If he continues to have success, then I think Chicago will re-sign him. He could be another good depth piece for their bottom-six. Having him as a low-risk, high-reward type of player can also help the team focus on repairing the top-six as well; since the bottom-six will be more established. I was not a fan of the initial trade, but now, I’m glad to be proven wrong.
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.