The 2021-22 Chicago Blackhawks came in with a roar and went out with a whimper. What was supposed to be a playoff contention roster fell sorely short of its goal. Now under new general manager Kyle Davidson, the organization is in full rebuild mode. Meanwhile, the players had to slog through a season that was mired in disappointment and controversy. The show is mercifully over, at least for now. It’s time to hand out individual player grades for the season that was. Today I’ll start with the forwards.
Henrik Borgstrom (Center)
4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points, minus-14 in 52 games played. Average time on ice ( ATOI) of 10:31 minutes
47.8 Corsi For Percentage (CF%), 19 blocked shots, 26 hits, 22 takeaways, 8 giveaways, 22 penalty minutes
40.2 Faceoff Percentage (FO%)
There were such high expectations for Borgstrom at the beginning of the season after he was acquired from the Florida Panthers. Drafted in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, he never found a fit as a regular player with Florida. The thought process was he needed a change of scenery and a second chance to reach his potential. Like Alex Nylander before him, he was another one of former general manager Stan Bowman’s reclamation projects.
This didn’t work out as planned as Borgstrom didn’t establish himself in the Blackhawks’ lineup either. He played most of the season on the third and fourth lines, or riding the pine. At one point in April the 24-year-old was scratched for eight consecutive games. When he returned to the lineup (mainly due to injuries of other players), most people had forgotten he was even part of the lineup. His seven points in 52 games just goes to show he was pretty much invisible all season. At this point I’m not sure even another change of scenery will do him much good.
Borgstrom’s Final Grade: F
Brett Connolly (Right Wing)
0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, minus-3 in 9 games played. ATOI of 8:24 minutes
44 CF%, 3 blocked shots, 7 hits, 2 takeaways, 0 giveaways, 15 penalty minutes
The Blackhawks were willing to take on Connolly’s $3.5 million cap hit as part of the trade when they acquired Borgstrom. The 29-year-old got his shot with the Blackhawks on Dec. 15, where he started the game on the second line. But by the end of the game he was demoted to the 4th line. His second outing was derailed when he knocked the Dallas Stars’ Tanner Kero out of the contest with a hard hit along the boards. Connolly received a game misconduct and was suspended for four games.
Once back in the lineup, the Blackhawks really never gave Connolly much more of a chance, nor did he do much to deserve it. He was an afterthought on the fourth line, only cracking over 10 minutes of playing time twice. The highlight of his time was ironically during his last game (versus the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 17), where he provided the primary assist on Ryan Carpenter’s first goal of the season. But by this time the Blackhawks were moving on to younger players in Connolly’s stead.
Connolly was never really a part of the Blackhawks plans, and he was buried in the American Hockey League most of the season. He embraced his assignment and was an integral member of the Rockford IceHogs push for the playoffs. Unfortunately, he sustained a left knee injury on Apr. 16, and will likely miss their playoff run.
Connolly’s Final Grade: D
Kirby Dach (Center)
9 goals, 17 assists, 26 points, minus-18 in 70 games played. ATOI of 18:03 minutes
46.7 CF%, 44 blocked shots, 49 hits, 42 takeaways, 17 giveaways, 43 penalty minutes
This was supposed to be the season Dach put it all together. In his rookie year he missed training camp due to a concussion, and then was arguably thrust into the NHL too soon. He missed most of his second season due to wrist surgery. There weren’t really any more excuses this season.
Yet the 21-year-old center still struggled, posting an abysmal 32.8 FO%, and spending most of the season relegated to the third line. He showed some potential by being strong on the puck and creating chances for his teammates. But he also deferred too much to his linemates, and couldn’t seem to finish when he did shoot the puck.
Some would say this 2019 third overall draft pick is already a bust. Others might say he was rushed into NHL responsibilities too soon and it stunted his development. I’m going to go with the later and hope for more progression next season (if he gets re-signed by the Blackhawks). But this season still leaves a lot to be desired.
Dach’s Final Grade: C
Alex DeBrincat (Left Wing)
41 goals, 37 assists, 78 points, minus-13 in 82 games played. ATOI of 20:51 minutes
49.5 CF%, 35 blocked shots, 101 hits, 67 takeaways, 47 giveaways, 19 penalty minutes
There’s not much more you can say about The Cat this season except “bravo”! His 41 goals was first on the team and tied his career best. His 37 assists was third on the team, and two above his career high. His 78 points was also two more than his previous record, and second on the team.
Since we’re on the subject of records, DeBrincat also had more power play goals (14), more blocked shots, more hits, more takeaways and the highest average time on the ice than in any of his previous four seasons. He also had more giveaways and more penalty minutes; but hey, I guess that comes with the territory. As an interesting side note, DeBrincat was also the only player who suited up for all 82 games.
This young man has turned into a true all-around and dangerous player, and a leader on and off the ice. It’s been a treat to watch him blossom into the superstar he’s become. Davidson could probably get the biggest haul for DeBrincat this offseason than anyone else on the team. But even those screaming for a complete overhaul would have a tough time seeing DeBrincat go.
DeBrincat’s Final Grade: A
MacKenzie Entwistle (Right Wing)
5 goals, 7 assists, 12 points, minus-16 in 55 games played. ATOI of 10:15 minutes
39.6 CF%, 22 blocked shots, 129 hits, 9 takeaways, 10 giveaways, 23 penalty minutes
Not much was expected of the 22-year-old prospect coming into the 2021-22 campaign. Yet he made the team out of training camp, and established himself as a fourth line depth player for most of the season. Entwistle had a nice stretch mid-season where he registered three goals and four assists in 11 games played. He didn’t have as much luck with his production before or after that.
But it isn’t exactly Entwistle’s job to put points up as it is to be hard to play against; and he did that admirably. His 129 hits stands out; he finished fifth on the team in that category. He also dealt with a few injuries throughout the season that kept him for finding his groove. All in all, the Ontario native exceeded expectations and shows some promise for the future.
Entwistle’s Final Grade: B-
Kurtis Gabriel (Right Wing)
0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, 0 plus/minus in 2 games played. ATOI of 6:02 minutes
50 CF%, 0 blocked shots, 7 hits, 1 takeaway, 0 giveaways, 0 penalty minutes
The 29-year-old grinder was acquired in Dec. 2021 from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for AHL defenseman Chad Krys. At the time, many were unclear what the Blackhawks were doing signing yet another bottom-six player when they already had a plethora of such players.
This was probably more of a situation of giving Krys a fresh start elsewhere than it was attaining Gabriel. But head coach Derek King sold the 29-year-old as someone who would defend the star players if the opponent was taking liberties on them (from ‘Kurtis Gabriel will get ‘every opportunity’ to earn steady role with Blackhawks’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 12/19/21).
Seeing as Gabriel only played in two games and averaged 6:02 minutes of ice time before being sent to the Rockford IceHogs, we don’t really know if he would have lived up to those expectations.
Gabriel’s Final Grade: Incomplete
Mike Hardman (Right Wing)
0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points, minus-6 in 21 games played. ATOI of 9:18 minutes
38.4 CF%, 12 blocked shots, 60 hits, 5 takeaways, 5 giveaways, 11 penalty minutes
Hardman got his games in with the Blackhawks early in the season; as his last start with the team was on Jan. 21. He’s another one of those fourth line grinders that Coach King seems to love so much. But he doesn’t offer much of an offensive upside, and eventually it became clear that other players filled his spot in the lineup better. The 23-year-old Massachusetts native is a bit of a tweener that will have to work very hard to find a regular spot in the NHL.
Hardman’s Final Grade: C
Reese Johnson (Center)
1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, minus-13 in 37 games played. ATOI of 10:38 minutes
38.5 CF%, 14 blocked shots, 141 hits, 13 takeaways, 6 giveaways, 16 penalty minutes
Johnson dealt with some adversity this season. He broke his right clavicle in mid-December and didn’t return to play until late March. But he finished off the season strong as a main-stay at fourth line center. The organization must have liked what they saw, because they inked him to a two-year contract extension in mid-April.
The 23-year-old seems to understand his role and play it well. His 50.5% success rate on faceoffs wins was a nice advantage for someone who started 82.9% of the time in the defensive zone. His 141 hits is good for third on the team. He should be a nice, familiar insurance policy on the fourth line to start next season.
R. Johnson’s Final Grade: B+
Tyler Johnson (Center)
3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, minus-8 in 26 games played. ATOI of 12:59 minutes
41.7 CF%, 7 blocked shots, 37 hits, 5 takeaways, 3 giveaways, 12 penalty minutes
The veteran forward missed most of the season due to neck surgery. Then shortly after he returned from that he was out for a couple weeks in concussion protocol. The poor guy has had a tough season, and we really haven’t gotten to know him very well.
But he was back for the month of April, and in the last seven games of the season he contributed two goals and two assists while playing on the second line with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. He also scored the shootout winner to officially eliminate the Vegas Golden Knights from the playoffs.
Imagine what kind of contributions he could have made if he was healthy all season? But unfortunately, he wasn’t. Which is why I don’t believe it’s fair to dish out a grade for Johnson. What does the future hold for the 31-year-old? Depending on if Toews and Kane decide to stick around or not, Tyler Johnson could be a nice veteran presence for the rebuild.
T. Johnson’s Final Grade: Incomplete
Patrick Kane (Right Wing)
26 goals, 66 assists, 92 points, minus-19 in 78 games played. ATOI of 21:49 minutes
49.9 CF%, 26 blocked shots, 11 hits, 42 takeaways, 49 giveaways, 18 penalty minutes
Kane is accustomed to being at the top of the leaderboard every season for the Blackhawks. He accomplished that this season by ranking first on the team in assists and points. His 66 assists tied his career high from the 2018-19 season, as well as ranking seventh in the league this season.
It’s the “mere” 26 goals that probably bothers Kane the most. He also ended the season on a bit of a low note, recording only one point (an assist) in the last four games. But in a recent interview he did allude to his nagging injury still plaguing him, so this could be part of the problem.
We all know Kane is still one of the best playmakers in the league, even at 33 years of age. Let’s face it; DeBrincat doesn’t attain 41 goals without Kane setting him up. Will they be the dynamic duo next season? We shall see.
Kane’s Final Grade: A-
Boris Katchouk (Left Wing)
1 goal, 0 assists, 1 point, minus-10 in 21 games played. ATOI of 10:07 minutes
35.4 CF%, 9 blocked shots, 40 hits, 6 takeaways, 3 giveaways, 14 penalty minutes
Katchouk was part of the blockbuster Brandon Hagel trade, and he’s shown he’s a reliable player for the Blackhawks. His stats don’t jump out at you, but then again stats aren’t usually what define a bottom-six player. He’s hard-working and consistent, and he’s shown he can be a valuable contributor on the penalty kill.
The Ontario native just finished his first season in the league, he’s only 23 years old and he’s signed to a cheap $758,333 contract with the Blackhawks for the next two seasons. He will likely benefit from more of an opportunity with Chicago than he would have on a stacked Tampa Bay team. I’ll sure he’ll be hungry to prove his worth.
Katchouk’s Final Grade: B
Jujhar Khaira (Center, Left Wing)
3 goals, 0 assists, 3 points, minus-4 in 27 games played. ATOI of 13:36 minutes
44.8 CF%, 14 blocked shots, 88 hits, 2 takeaways, 2 giveaways, 13 penalty minutes
To say this 27-year-old forward had a rough season would be an understatement. Looking for a fresh start after several subpar seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Khaira got off to a decent start at the beginning of the season. He was a staple on the fourth line. His size and tenacity, plus a little bit of hidden skill, got him a few spins next to Jonathan Toews on the second line.
But then he was out with Covid for a handful of games, and then there was the scary collision on Dec. 7 at the New York Rangers game. Defenseman Jacob Trouba caught Khaira with his head down and knocked him out cold. Khaira was in concussion protocol for most of December. He suited up for just nine games in January before undergoing lower back surgery in late February, ending his season.
The Blackhawks seemed to like what they saw in Khaira, but his string of bad luck never really allowed him to establish himself with the team. He has one more year on his contract, but it’s unclear whether he’s in the organization’s future plans.
Khaira’s Final Grade: Incomplete
Dominik Kubalik (Left Wing)
15 goals, 17 assists, 32 points, minus-16 in 78 games played. ATOI of 14:31 minutes
45.5 CF%, 28 blocked shots, 93 hits, 18 takeaways, 25 giveaways, 16 penalty minutes
He scored 30 goals in his rookie season, and a respectable 17 goals in the shortened 56-game 2020-21 season. So what happened to Kubalik this season? It’s tough to say, but he definitely spent most of this campaign in a slump. Eventually the lack of production got to the 26-year-old; you could see his confidence was at an all-time low. His work away from the puck didn’t do him any favors either. Oftentimes it seemed as if Kubalik was standing around waiting for the puck so he could try to shoot.
Kubalik did end the season on a bit of a high note. In his last eight games he registered three goals and three assists. But by this time it was a little too late. Perhaps next season will be a different story. But it’s bad timing for Kubalik, as he’s currently a restricted free agent.
Kubalik’s Final Grade: D
Philipp Kurashev (Center, Left Wing)
6 goals, 15 assists, 21 points, minus-16 in 67 games played. ATOI of 12:51 minutes
44.3 CF%, 30 blocked shots, 31 hits, 24 takeaways, 16 giveaways, 12 penalty minutes
Kurashev is a bit of a conundrum. He started the season playing mostly among the top-six forwards. But then for some reason or another he fell out of favor. Coach King mentioned he got knocked off the puck too easily. So, for the remainder of the season Kurashev languished in the bottom-six and was a frequent healthy scratch.
Towards the end of the season the 22-year-old received some chances on the top lines once again. I remember a couple of games where Kurashev was deployed with Kane and Toews. He played hungry, like he wanted to prove that’s where he belonged. As the season wound down, he developed some chemistry on a more skilled third line with Sam Lafferty and Taylor Raddysh.
Kurashev is another player who’s a restricted free agent this summer. I believe the Blackhawks will bring him back on a cheap contract. There’s potential there if they deploy him right.
Kurashev’s Final Grade: B-
Sam Lafferty (Center, Left Wing)
5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points, minus-16 in 56 games played. ATOI of 13:34 minutes
36.8 CF%, 24 blocked shots, 103 hits, 21 takeaways, 18 giveaways, 21 penalty minutes
What a pleasant surprise Lafferty turned out to be! The 27-year-old came to the team in Jan. 2022 in exchange for Nylander. At the time, it was seen as a good move to get a decent return for Nylander, who didn’t live up to his potential. In hindsight, it was a great pick-up.
Lafferty exceeded all expectations by becoming the new energy guy, in many ways replacing some of what the Blackhawks lost in the Hagel trade. He’s also very versatile in that he can play up and down in the lineup. His stats are actually a bit mis-leading, as Lafferty is constantly creating chances for himself and his linemates. The Blackhawks are committed to him; he signed a two-year extension with the organization at the end of April. He could easily be a break-out player next season.
Lafferty’s Final Grade: B+
Taylor Raddysh (Right Wing)
6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points, minus-4 in 21 games played. ATOI of 15:34 minutes
51.8 CF%, 4 blocked shots, 41 hits, 9 takeaways, 10 giveaways, 2 penalty minutes
Like Katchouk, Raddysh came to the Blackhawks via the infamous Hagel trade. But it took no time for the six-foot-three winger to endear himself to Blackhawk’s fans. In his first six games with the team, he recorded two goals and three assists. His production tapered off there for a bit, but he did end up adding four more goals and one more helper in his 21 games with his new team.
Raddysh is signed for the same $758,333 for the next two seasons as Katchouk, but he looks to be an even bigger bargain because he’s more of a top-six player. He also has some familiarity with Strome and DeBrincat; the three played together for the OHL’s Erie Otter’s back in the day (not that we know for sure if either Strome and DeBrincat will be back). Either way, Raddysh looks like a good piece for the rebuild.
Raddysh’s Final Grade: B+
Lukas Reichel (Center, Left Wing)
0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, minus-8 in 11 games played. ATOI of 13:12 minutes
45.8 CF%, 3 blocked shots, 0 hits, 6 takeaways, 7 giveaways, 0 penalty minutes
The Blackhawks committed to burning the first year of Reichel’s entry level contract by playing him in more than nine games this season. He spent most the season with the IceHogs, but came up to the big club on three separate occasions. He was deployed in a variety of different ways, at center and at wing, among the top-six forwards and then on the third line. Each call-up he looked a little better and a little more comfortable. He got a good taste of the NHL stage, then took what he learned back to the AHL to fine tune. He’s now primed to lead the IceHogs on a long postseason run, which will only further his development.
This first round (17th overall) 2020 NHL Draft pick shows elite skill and vision and a very high ceiling. But the Blackhawks are taking the patient approach with him. After all, he’s only 19 years old and 170 pounds soaking wet. While he showed flashes of potential in his 11 games, he was thrown off the puck too easily, and needs to work on having the weight and strength to compete with grown men. He’s planning on training in Chicago this summer with Blackhawks’ head strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman. All signs point to this top prospect taking his development very seriously, in order to make a splash next season.
Reichel’s Final Grade: B
Josiah Slavin (Left Wing, Center)
0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 0 plus/minus in 15 games played. ATOI of 12:02 minutes
45.1 CF%, 4 blocked shots, 12 hits, 4 takeaways, 3 giveaways, 4 penalty minutes
This 23-year-old winger/center earned his first and only NHL point with a primary assist in his very first NHL game. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. Ah, that’s not exactly being fair. Slavin made his living mostly on the fourth line in his 15 games up with the big club. He did an admirable job of playing this role.
While he might not be completely ready for the NHL just yet, Slavin received the IceHogs team award for Unsung Hero, touting his two-way player abilities. Let’s see if he can eventually translate that to the NHL.
Slavin’s Final Grade: B-
Dylan Strome (Center)
22goals, 26 assists, 48 points, minus-6 in 69 games played. ATOI of 17:26 minutes
48.9 CF%, 33 blocked shots, 11 hits, 47 takeaways, 22 giveaways, 28 penalty minutes
Strome’s story might be the best feel-good story of the season from the Blackhawks. Left for washed-up by former head coach Jeremy Colliton, Strome was a healthy scratch in seven of the first 11 games. When he was deployed, it was as a member of the bottom-six forwards. When Coach King took over he gave Strome a second chance, but not without making him earn it every step of the way.
King scratched him and played him on the lower lines as well, stressing his need to be stronger away from the puck. Strome overcame all this adversity, and was finally rewarded with the top line center spot in between DeBrincat and Strome. He grabbed this opportunity and never looked back.
He ended his campaign third place on the team in goals, and fourth place in assists and points. Oh, and did I mention his immense improvement in the faceoff circle? Because of all this, Strome will demand a healthy contract in the offseason. The question remains whether the Blackhawks will want him as part of their rebuild or receive a hefty trade value for him. Either way, Strome’s plight and the way he handled it like a true pro are the closest I’ve ever gotten to an A+ grade.
Strome’s Final Grade: A (almost +)
Jonathan Toews (Center)
12 goals, 25 assists, 37 points, minus-14 in 71 games played. ATOI of 17:29 minutes
48.5 CF%, 22 blocked shots, 25 hits, 48 takeaways, 34 giveaways, 39 penalty minutes
Toews will be the first person to tell you he’s disappointed with his season. He had the best of intentions, but unfortunately his body didn’t want to cooperate with him. After a full season off, the captain took some time to get up to speed again. He also dealt with a concussion that kept him out the entire month of February. If we’re all being honest, Toews will never be the Toews of old again. But he still adds value as a second or third-line center.
The 34-year-old ranked fifth on the team in goals, assists and points. Which isn’t too shabby for the role he now plays. Obviously one of his biggest contributions is his faceoff prowess; his 59% ranks third in the league for all centers taking over 1000 draws.
His intensity and leadership will always be assets; it’s just a matter of how he wants to channel these qualities. Will he commit to being a part of the rebuild, or will he take his talents to a contending team? Time will tell.
Toews’ Final Grade: B-
That covers the final grades at forward for the Blackhawks in this 2021-22 season. Do you agree with my final marks? Who would you grade higher or lower? Stay tuned to The Hockey Writers, as we will have grades for the Blackhawk’s defensemen and goalies coming soon!
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. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
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