Blackhawks Top 10 Highlights From the 2020-21 Season

The Chicago Blackhawks haven’t “officially” made the playoffs in the past four years, and it’s never easy to be on the outside looking in. But we didn’t really expect much more this season, did we? Chicago is in rebuilding mode. But all in all, the Blackhawks still managed to compile a pretty entertaining season. On that note, it’s time to look at the top 10 highlights from the 2020-21 campaign. For those interested, I’ve included my similar piece from the 2019-20 season below. It’s always kind of fun to see the evolution.

Related – Top 10 Highlights From Blackhawks 2019-20 Season

This is one of my favorite posts to put together every year. It’s intriguing to look back on the season in hindsight and pick the most impressive moments. One would think it would be easy this season considering the team didn’t do all that great, and the fact there were only 56 games instead of the normal 82 contests. But I had a hard time with just 10 picks, because I didn’t want to miss out on anyone’s first goal, or the times the youngsters won the game in those clutch moments. So without further ado, here are my final choices.

1. Kubalik’s Power Play Snipes

Dominik Kubalik had a stellar 2019-20 rookie campaign, finishing with 30 goals and 46 points, which ranked second and third place for the Blackhawks respectively. He was even nominated for the 2020 Calder Memorial Trophy for best rookie. His 19.1 shooting percentage was freakishly high, leading many to believe he would regress to the mean this season. But Kubalik was out to prove his first NHL season wasn’t a fluke.

The Czech Republic native got off to a bit of a show start, going pointless in his first four games. But he broke through big time on Jan. 19 against the Florida Panthers. He scored two power play goals, as well as providing the primary assist on Philipp Kurashev’s first NHL marker later in the game. What’s impressive about Kubalik’s double PP goals is that he wasn’t even playing on the top unit. But the 25-year-old certainly isn’t afraid to shoot the puck. In the below sequence, the third shot ended up being the charm.

Despite questionable lineup decisions and limited playing time this season (the majority of his ice time was on the third line and the second power play unit), Kubalik finished second on the team in goals (17) and third in assists and points (21 and 38). Hopefully some roster tweaks and personnel changes will bode well for Kubalik next season. Having a few different options might allow the coaching staff to utilize him differently, giving him even more of a chance at success.  

2. Suter’s Hat Trick

Pius Suter was one of the highly touted prospects coming over from Europe this past season. Sure enough, he made the team out of training camp and played in 55 of the Blackhawks’ 56 games. In the first two contests he led the team with eight shots on goal, including a sneaky shot between his legs to showcase his skills.  

But the 24-year-old Swiss league MVP didn’t hit the scoresheet until his sixth game. Suter’s first NHL goal came on Jan. 24 against the Detroit Red Wings. And then he scored again. And again. That’s right, a hat trick for Suter was certainly a good “welcome to the NHL” moment.

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Suter finished out the season fourth on the team with 14 goals and 27 points. He’s currently a restricted free agent the Blackhawks will want to make it a priority to re-sign in the offseason.  

3. The Rookies Win It in Overtime

This next highlight includes Suter as well, but he’s only one of four rookies that combined for the overtime winner against the Dallas Stars on Feb. 9. This was the second contest versus the Stars where the Blackhawks were victorious with an identical 2-1 score in the extra frame. In the first game, Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane combined for a lovely give-and-go that ended with DeBrincat’s tap-in for the OT win.

It was like the superstars showed the team how it’s done, and the youngsters said, “We can do that too!” This time Suter tallied the game-winning goal, Brandon Hagel provided the primary assist, Ian Mitchell was the third player and the defenseman out on the ice, and netminder Kevin Lankinen was actually credited with the secondary assist on the goal. Not a veteran to be found.

This sequence signifies the Blackhawks’ commitment to the development of their youth. All four of these rookies were being given significant roles during an imperative stage in the game, and it paid off.

4. Mitchell & Beaudin’s 1st NHL Goals

Defensemen Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin both came into this 2020-21 season with impressive resumes and lots of potential; but could they transfer it to the NHL level? Well, they both took a step in the right direction in the contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 11. The two young blueliners each collected their first NHL goals just 56 seconds apart.

Both these players received opportunities they might not have otherwise been given early in the season based on injuries and Covid protocol issues with other defensemen. It served them well, with Mitchell suiting up for 39 games and Beaudin for 19 contests. Their playing time tapered off a bit as the season went on. But they both progressed, and will look to continue their development in the upcoming season.  

5. Kane’s Milestones

Kane is the 14-year veteran among all the rookies, so of course celebrating his 400th regular season career goal was a pretty big deal. Appropriately, it came in a 7-2 trouncing of longtime Original Six and former/temporary division rival, the Red Wings on Feb. 28. It was also the first night the Blackhawks wore their sexy reverse retro jerseys, putting a visual punctuation point on Kane’s accomplishment.

The man they call Showtime was the 100th NHL player to reach this mark, as well as the ninth US-born player and the fourth all-time Blackhawk. And, it was also his 10th multi-point game (one goal, two assists) of the season. He ended up with 20 multi-point games overall.

Just a few weeks later, on Mar. 9, Kane skated in his 1000th career game. Unfortunately, this game was a bit of a dud. The Blackhawks lost 6-1 to the Stars on the road, and Kane recorded only one shot on goal. But as soon as the team returned from their road trip, they honored him in a mini ceremony on Mar. 23.

It’s appropriate this matchup was against the Panthers, so Kane’s former head coach Joel Quenneville was there to witness the festivities. The night ended with a 3-2 feel-good win for the Blackhawks, and Kane earned two assists in the effort. This gave him his 1066th point of his career, to gain fourth place all-time among U.S. born players. Congrats to Kane, and to many more milestones in an illustrious career.

6. Kurashev’s Winner in the Shootout

Let’s get back to the rookies. Kurashev is another young player whom the Blackhawks had high hopes for this season. He lived up to expectations, establishing himself as an everyday player and suiting up for 54 of the squad’s 56 matchups. The 21-year-old (who looks more like he’s 14) showed some flexibility to his game, playing up and down the lineup and at center and the wing. He ended the season third among rookies (behind Suter and Hagel) with eight goals and eight assists for 16 points.

Related – Stan Mikita: A True Chicago Legend

But probably the most exciting goal for the kid was the one that doesn’t even count in these statistics. On Mar. 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the two teams headed to a shootout after a winner couldn’t be determined in regulation or overtime. Head coach Jeremy Colliton went with DeBrincat and then Kane as his first two shooters. No surprises there. Unfortunately neither one converted, but Victor Hedman and Brayden Point didn’t score for the Lightning either.

As his third shooter Colliton chose Kurashev. No pressure kid! Nothing fancy, but he got the job done. When Steven Stamkos didn’t convert, it gave the Blackhawks the win and two points!

This is just another example of the Blackhawks giving more responsibility and opportunity to the youth. Kurashev has a lot of raw talent, and he’ll look to continue to hone his skills next season.

7. Lankinen’s 2nd Career Shutout

I had a hard time picking just one of Lankinen’s many special rookie moments from this season. The Finnish native had a lot of good luck with the Red Wings as the opposition. He earned his first NHL win against them in the Blackhawks home opener on Jan. 22. His first NHL shutout on Feb. 17 was versus the Red Wings, where he stopped 29 shots for a 2-0 win. He also made a career-high 44 save on 46 shots to defeat this same team 7-2 on Feb. 28.

But let’s face it, the Red Wings aren’t exactly the same caliber as the Panthers. Which is why I chose Lankinen’s second career shutout against the Florida team as my highlight for the Blackhawks No. 1 netminder.

In this contest, the 26-year-old stopped 41 total shots to hold the Panthers scoreless in a 3-0 win for the Blackhawks. Appropriately, it earned him the No. 1 star of the game. You gotta love that wave!

8. More Overtime Heroics

Yep, we previously highlighted a Blackhawks overtime victory where four rookies were on the ice during a key phase of the game. But this next OT win deserves its own emphasis as it involves two completely different rookies, along with a second-year player the Blackhawks didn’t even think would play this past season.  

Hagel was one of the most pleasant rookie surprises for the Blackhawks. They hoped he could be a steady and consistent bottom-six forward for the team, but he emerged as so much more. His speed, tenacity and energy earned him the respect of teammates, coaches and fans alike. When Hagel was on the ice, good things were usually happening. Because of this, Coach Colliton utilized him up and down the lineup. It paid off in nine goals, 15 assists and 24 points, good for the fifth top producer on the team.

Brandon Hagel Rockford Icehogs
Brandon Hagel had an excellent rookie season for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk started the season with the Rockford IceHogs. He was lower on the depth chart than Mitchell and Beaudin, and had to wait his turn to play with the big club. He made his NHL debut on Mar. 7, then joined the Blackhawks again on Mar. 30 and played the remaining 20 games. He proved a dependable blueliner, but also brought an offensive flair. Kalynuk ended up tying Duncan Keith with four goals to lead defensemen on the team, even though Keith played in 54 games to Kalynuk’s 21.

Second year player Kirby Dach broke his wrist at the World Junior Championship in Dec. 2020 and was slated to miss the entire 2020-21 campaign. But he recovered faster than expected, and made his triumphant season debut on Mar. 27. He ended up missing the last four games due to complications with the healing process. Even so, having 18 games to play and continue to develop was much more beneficial than sitting the season out.  

But let’s get to the goal already! The play resulted in a 4-3 OT victory over the Blue Jackets on Apr. 12.

This was perfectly executed by all. Kalynuk started with a nice pass to Dach and then joined the rush up the middle to provide the perfect distraction. Dach delivered a seamless feed right on the tape of Hagel’s stick, and Hagel put it away. This highlight is fun to watch, and it’s also a key confidence builder for these youngsters.

9. Bash Brothers

It’s always beneficial when two players find some chemistry together, and Hagel and Vinnie Hinostroza did just that on Apr. 21 against the Nashville Predators. We already spoke at length about Hagel. But Hinostroza brings a similar persistent and hard-working style of play as his now teammate.

The former Blackhawk was re-acquired on Apr. 2 from the Panthers, after playing for them in only nine games and accumulating zero points. It wasn’t a good fit in the Sunshine State, and the Bartlett, IL native came back to the Blackhawks looking for a fresh start. He made the most of it, registering four goals and eight assists for 12 points in a mere 17 games.

And he seemed to find a great fit playing alongside Hagel. I could show you the overtime highlight where Hinostroza assists Hagel’s game-winning goal, but instead I’d like to feature Suter’s tally earlier in the game. It was made possible by Hinostroza’s hard work along the boards, forcing a turnover and allowing Hagel to retrieve the puck. Hagel took it from there, feeding Suter for the goal.

After the game, Hinostroza spoke about his and Hagel’s dual mindset.

We kind of talked a little bit off the ice and said we have to bring the energy and play hard and be some of the guys first on the forecheck, playing kind of chippy, hitting guys. When we get out there, we just look at each other and it’s kind of like a Bash Bros. thing, just go out there and work as hard as we can and if we score, we score.

Both Hagel and Hinostroza are currently free agents looking to re-sign with the Blackhawks. It sure would be nice if we could see some more Bash Brothers next season.

10. DeBrincat’s 7-Game Goal Streak

DeBrincat was arguably one of the best and most consistent players for the Blackhawks this season. The feisty winger’s 32 goals led the team, and was also third in the NHL behind only Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. His 24 assists and 52 points were second on the team only to Kane. DeBrincat’s overall production put him on pace for 50 goals, 38 assists and 88 points in a typical 82-game season. 

Related – Blackhawks 2020-21 Player Grades: Alex DeBrincat

The Cat scored his 100th and 101st career goals on Mar. 5 against the Lightning, in only 255 games. He joined a select group of Blackhawks’ players who scored 100 or more goals in their fourth season, including linemate and partner-in-crime Kane. For reference, it took Kane 306 games to reach 100 career-goals, 51 more games than DeBrincat.

This season DeBrincat registered 15 multi-point games, with one three-point game and one four-point game. Throughout the season he had two five-game point streaks and two eight-game point streaks. He accumulated nine power play goals and seven game-winning goals. Oh, and one short-handed tally. The Cat can pretty much do it all.

So it’s only appropriate he ended his 2020-21 campaign on a high note. In the last seven games of the season DeBrincat ran a seven-game goal streak, which actually included nine goals, and with two assists thrown in for good measure. Here’s DeBrincat’s 32nd goal, which he tallied in the Blackhawks final contest.

He makes it look so easy, but none of this is easy. Takeaway, breakaway, nifty forehand/backhand move, and top shelf placement; all in one fell swoop. What a perfect way to end a phenomenal campaign! DeBrincat has previously fallen under the radar in the shadow of Kane. I think it’s safe to say that’s not the case anymore.  

When you look at it from the above perspective, the Blackhawks had a heck of a season! What’s noteworthy is all the new faces, and their numerous accomplishments. Sprinkle in some more seasoned players that are starting to find their stride as successful NHLers, and then add a veteran superstar like Kane to the mix. There’s no doubt about it; the future looks brighter after this 2020-21 campaign, and these highlights are a testament to that.

Here’s to an even more successful 2021-22!

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