As this frustrating 2019-20 season unfolds for the Chicago Blackhawks, we struggle to look for some positives. General manager Stan Bowman made a number of offseason moves in an attempt to bolster the Blackhawks’ roster this past summer, but they’ve had mixed results. He added Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan on the blue line. The former is having a mediocre season at best, and the latter is currently out of the lineup due to a season-ending shoulder injury. The Blackhawks also added Zack Smith and Alex Nylander at forward. Smith has had minimal impact so far, and Nylander has been frustratingly inconsistent and even a recent healthy scratch.
But one forward that has made a solid impact is former Vegas Golden Knight, Ryan Carpenter. The Blackhawks acquired Carpenter on the first day of free agency to a very reasonable three-year contract worth a total of $3 million. He essentially replaced Marcus Kruger in the lineup, who cost the Blackhawks $3 million throughout just the 2018-19 season. Before he even hit the ice, Carpenter’s cap hit was an immediate benefit to the team. But since then he’s been everything the Blackhawks have asked of him and more. Here are some ways Carpenter is helping the Blackhawks.
Help on the Penalty Kill
It’s well known by now the Blackhawks finished the 2018-19 season dead last on the penalty kill, with only a 72.7% success rate. It was a primary objective in the offseason to remedy that, and Carpenter was a target towards that pursuit.
The 28-year-old center finished fifth among Golden Knight forwards last season on the penalty kill. This season he’s a staple for the Blackhawks on their penalty kill unit. He currently leads the team with over 106 minutes of shorthanded ice time, which is 11 minutes more than second place David Kampf, and 14 minutes more than third place Duncan Keith. Apparently the man dubbed as “Carpy” also has a flair for the dramatic. His first goal as a Blackhawk was a short-handed goal, scored during the mom’s weekend in front of his mother.
Through the first half of the season, the Blackhawks are now at 82% on the penalty kill, which is 9th in the league and obviously much improved from last season. Carpenter’s hard work is an integral part of this success.
Another area in which the Oviedo, Florida native has helped the team is in the faceoff circle. He is third on the team in the number of faceoffs taken, at 419. Jonathan Toews (910) and Dylan Strome (425) sit in front of him. But while Toews is by far superior with a 56.7% success rate, Carpenter is second of the three centers at 45.5%. Strome has a 44.9% success rate.
It’s especially important to win draws in the defensive zone so the puck doesn’t end up in the opposing net. Carpenter has taken 230 defensive zone draws (second only to Toews) and won 45.6% of them. Considering his time spent on the penalty kill, it’s no wonder he’s also taken a team-high 103 shorthanded faceoffs. Head coach Jeremy Colliton is obviously leaning on the center to do his part at the dot.
An Offensive Upside
To begin the season, Carpenter was primarily utilized in a bottom-six role on 5-on-5 play. As a matter of fact, he was deployed mostly on the fourth line. But then he was elevated to the third line alongside Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat around Christmastime. With injuries keeping Drake Caggiula, Andrew Shaw, and Brandon Saad sidelined, Colliton acknowledged Carpenter for stepping up.
He makes simple plays, he helps us to get out of D-zone, he advances the puck, he goes to the net. I don’t know if I’m looking to utilize him in an offensive roll as much as he’s helping the offensive guys be in better situations, and he’s willing to do the dirty work – defensively as well as going to the net. (from ‘Ryan Carpenter’s Blackhawks role increasing due to offensive growth, not vice versa’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 12/23/19)
When the Blackhawks played the New York Islanders on Dec. 27, Colliton placed Carpenter on the same line as offensive guru Patrick Kane. It was two games later against the Flames that Dylan Sikura joined that line as well, and the trio enjoyed an excellent outing together.
Kane finished the night with two goals and two assists, Sikura contributed two helpers, and Carpenter was credited with an assist to go along with winning 7-of-13 faceoffs. When Kane was interviewed after the game, he credited his two new unlikely linemates.
Kane on his 4-point night: "My linemates were great. I thought Carpenter and Sikura had great games. Those guys were working so hard on the puck on the backcheck, on the forecheck, creating turnovers, getting to the net, giving me the puck with time and space."— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) January 1, 2020
Carpenter and Kane have been deployed on the same line for six contests in a row now, with either Sikura or Nylander as their third linemate. No combination of the four has found as much success as they did in that Flames’ contest, but they’re holding their own.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Carpenter and Kane have a 54.22 Corsi For Percentage when on the ice together. Carpenter, Kane and Sikura have a 49.4 CF%. Carpenter, Kane & Nylander have a 69.23 CF%! Now we all know Kane isn’t the most defensively responsible, although he offers a huge offensive upside. Nylander and Sikura are works in progress on both ends of the ice. Carpenter is the defensively responsible one and the one to win faceoffs. Hopefully he can add to the mix offensively as well moving forward.
With Strome injured on Tuesday night, Colliton and the Blackhawks are going to need Carpenter even more. In practice on Wednesday, Carpenter, Kane and Nylander were put on the same line once again. This time they were elevated from the “third” line to the second line. With each man down another needs to step up. Carpenter, especially, appears ready for the job.
When the season started the general consensus was that Carpenter would make a solid addition to the team. He’s lived up to his end of the bargain and then some. Now even more is being asked of him due to injuries and lack of depth. Let’s see how far he can take it.