Blackhawks News & Rumours: Nylander, Söderblom, DeBrincat, Strome

Entering a new year offered the Chicago Blackhawks a perfect opportunity to force a reset of the rollercoaster that’s been their 2021-22 season thus far. Unfortunately, too many of the bad habits they had established throughout 2021 carried forward into their start to 2022.

Having now lost five straight, it’s becoming less and less likely that this team can salvage much success by season’s end. Although there have been some improvements and headline-worthy performances along the way, Chicago’s collective effort has simply made it too difficult to avoid despair.

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As the franchise continually fails to navigate its direction, Chicago’s most newsworthy notes can be found in this latest edition of Blackhawks News & Rumours.

Blackhawks Decide to Part Ways With Nylander

Despite the two and a half years that Alexander Nylander spent with the organization, his contributions didn’t quite correlate with such a tenure. In 65 contests with the Blackhawks, he was only able to accumulate 26 points – 10 goals and 16 assists. A far cry from what should be expected of a former eighth overall pick.

Alex Nylander, former Rockford IceHog
Alex Nylander, former Rockford IceHog (Jenae Anderson/The Hockey Writers)

Preseason knee surgery prior to the start of 2020-21, kept Nylander sidelined throughout that respective campaign, but he was ready to go for 2021-22. That said, the Blackhawks didn’t see an immediate fit for him within their roster, so the only professional hockey he’s played this season has been with the Rockford IceHogs. He’s collected 12 points through 23 contests in the American Hockey League (AHL), thus far.

Although Nylander has worked hard to make his case for being called up to the NHL this season, it’s no longer on the Blackhawks to decide when the time is right for his return.

Chicago traded Nylander to the Pittsburgh Penguins and acquired forward Sam Lafferty in the transaction. Although the almost 27-year-old has a slight edge in NHL games played, with a hit count that illustrates a greater physical presence than Nylander, Lafferty’s 21 points through 94 contests with the Penguins would suggest that the Blackhawks downgraded in that regard.

Given that this was a straightforward swap of forwards, time will tell how it impacts Chicago’s strategy moving forward – if at all.

Söderblom Shines Bright in Back-to-Back Debut

During any in-season struggles, comfort can always be sought by shifting a franchise’s focus to the potential of its prospect pool. That’s exactly what the Blackhawks hoped to achieve by infusing Arvid Söderblom into this past weekend’s schedule.

Söderblom was thrust into his first-ever NHL game in a relief role after Collin Delia was pulled against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Chicago went on to lose 6-1, with Söderblom only stopping 15 of 18 shots faced. That said, his stats didn’t do him any justice, as he wasn’t entering a very ideal debut scenario and held his own in a game the Blackhawks had lost well before he hit the ice.

With a chance to find a better fate the very next night, the Blackhawks went with Söderblom as Sunday’s starter. Unfortunately, again, Chicago ended up on the wrong side of that one as the Calgary Flames bettered them by a score of 5-1. However, Söderblom’s 37-save performance offered fans a welcomed distraction.

Kept busy all night, Söderblom seemed far from fazed by the workload. That bodes well for a Blackhawks team that doesn’t have much to look forward to at the moment, especially as it relates to goaltending depth. At least they can rest assured that Söderblom is poised to compete whenever called upon.

DeBrincat Joins Exclusive Company With Multi-Goal Night

There is no justifiable way to doubt Alex DeBrincat‘s skill set. Having already silenced skeptics following his struggles in 2019-20, DeBrincat’s elevation is leading him directly towards becoming the new face of this franchise.

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

Managing 20:36 per contest so far through 2021-22, his highest average ice time to date, DeBrincat is taking advantage of the added minutes. His 26 points are second to only Kane’s 28 at the moment, with a consistency that suggests he could take over the top spot on any given night.

What’s been most impressive in DeBrincat’s game, though, has been the goal-scoring prowess that’s recently aligned him with the league’s elite. More importantly for the Blackhawks, DeBrincat is proving to be a reliable producer. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he’s been doing so since he cracked their roster in 2017-18.

Tallying his 19th and 20th of 2021-22 in Tuesday’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche, DeBrincat has now hit the 20-goal mark in four of his first five seasons with Chicago. It was only in the shortened campaign of 2019-20 that he missed the milestone, having notched 18 in 70 games – a 21-goal pace for a full 82-game schedule.

The 24-year-old is now up to 139 goals in 319 contests. Already achieving among some of the Blackhawks’ all-time greats, if he can start 2022-23 strong and score at least 20 before his 25th birthday in mid-December, DeBrincat will join an even more exclusive list comprised of Chicago’s most consistent performers ever.

King Continues to Fumble Strategizing Strome

It’s true that this has looked like a different Blackhawks team since Derek King took over, even as they fail to sustain any newfound success. Yet, it seems that some of the bad habits that Jeremy Colliton set in motion have been harder to shake than others. Most notably, this team’s inability to properly utilize Dylan Strome.

Derek King, formerly of the Rockford IceHogs
Derek King, formerly of the Rockford IceHogs (Jenae Anderson/The Hockey Writers)

Given that Strome’s production has steadily regressed every season since his first with Chicago in 2018-19, it makes sense that he’s not relied on in the same ways that their more prolific forwards often are. However, not leveraging his skill set has been detrimental to both Strome and the Blackhawks.

Despite his drop in point totals, Strome’s faceoff stats so far through 2021-22 are actually the best they’ve been since he joined the Blackhawks. For a team that’s struggling in that regard, this seems to present a fairly logical fix. Rather than attempting to evoke a different set of attributes, King needs to simply look to Strome’s strengths.

Besides, just because it’s becoming increasingly clear that Strome will not be included in Chicago’s future game plan, doesn’t mean he should be overlooked in the meantime. In more ways than one, it’s to the organization’s advantage to set Strome up for success while he’s still there.

First, ensuring he’s in a position to produce improves Chicago’s ability to compete. Second, showcasing Strome’s talents will only help increase his trade value. Finding a more ideal fit for the 24-year-old simultaneously works to enhance the franchise’s present and future.

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King needs to stop overthinking how to strategize Strome and simply let the centreman do what he does best, between those he proves to be most impactful alongside.

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