Barring a miracle stretch by the Blackhawks and complete collapses by other teams in the Western Conference wild-card hunt to close out the 2019-20 campaign, Chicago's hockey team will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season. While no one could blame disgruntled fans who choose not to tune in down the stretch, roughly a quarter of the schedule still remains. For those who choose to tune in (godspeed to you), there are several players and storylines to keep an eye on for developmental, positional competition, and milestone reasons.
Continued Development of Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist
When assessing the future of the Chicago Blackhawks, Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist are at the forefront. With both players being first-round picks (Boqvist eighth overall in 2018, Dach third overall in 2019), the team expects them to be major contributors during their next competitive stretch. The 2019-20 campaign marks the first season at the highest level for both players, and it has been a year of development for both.
Kirby Dach has shown flashes of what he can become on both sides of the puck, recording eight goals and 12 assists while garnering increased defensive responsibilities over 57 games. He has split time between the center and wing positions throughout the season learning the game through participation and observation. Jeremy Colliton has commented on his growing trust in the rookie forward, and it has shown in his average time on ice increasing from 12:03 in games one through 26 to 15:54 through the second half of the schedule to date. Offensive production has come in spurts for Dach, as he has posted three multi-game point streaks at various points throughout the season with scoreless droughts in between.
If Dach can find his way onto the scoresheet consistently down the home stretch of this season, it should inspire some confidence heading into his sophomore season. While the hope is that he becomes the top center of the future for the Hawks, there's still a long road ahead for the 19-year-old.
Development for defensemen is always a much more intricate process, and such has been the case for Adam Boqvist. The 19-year-old defenseman did not break camp with the NHL team and remained in Rockford for further tuning up before receiving the call to the show in early November. He showed an early flash of what his game is all about when he drove home a power-play goal in just his second-career NHL tilt.
Boqvist brings plenty of offensive potential to the table, so only seeing eight points (four goals, four assists) over 36 games is nothing to be too concerned about. Those numbers will certainly increase in the coming seasons when he becomes more of a mainstay at the point on the power play, a role previously occupied by the recently traded Erik Gustafsson. It would be nice to see him contribute more on the scoresheet over the last 19 games of the season, but more attention should be paid to his defensive game.
Like Dach, Boqvist's average time on ice has increased from the first half of his campaign (15:29) to the most recent stretch (17:21). With more opportunities to showcase his abilities, the Blackhawks have seen mixed results from Boqvist. He has made some savvy plays to help the team escape danger and exit the defensive zone, but he has also had mishaps that lead to scoring chances against. How Boqvist handles pressure in his own zone will be an area to keep an eye on throughout the remainder of this season. A strong, smart finish to the 2019-20 campaign would be a massive confidence boost for a young defenseman still ironing out his game heading into year two.
The Goalie Situation
With Corey Crawford's contract expiring at the end of the season and Robin Lehner being shipped to Vegas at the trade deadline, the Blackhawks' goalie situation is very much up in the air looking forward. Part of the return for Lehner included netminder Malcolm Subban.
Though Blackhawks' general manager Stan Bowman has stated that the team "will have a proven NHL goalie signed for next year," it's unclear who that will be. Malcolm Subban still has much to prove, as he carries a 30-23-7 record, 2.97 goals-against average, and .899 save percentage over 65 career games. He has not started a game for his new team yet, so Blackhawks fans have yet to have an extended firsthand look at him. When he does get into game action, it will be interesting to see how he handles the onslaught of scoring chances that the Blackhawks typically allow.
Subban is also set to become a restricted free agent at season's end, so the other in-house names to keep an eye on are in Rockford. Both Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins are signed to deals beyond this season (Delia through 2021-22, Tomkins through 2020-21) and Kevin Lankinen is set to become a restricted free agent at its conclusion. Here is how those netminders have performed this season:
- Collin Delia: 2.70 GAA, .911 save percentage over 29 games
- Matt Tomkins: 3.25 GAA, .894 save percentage over 11 games
- Kevin Lankinen: 3.03 GAA, .909 save percentage over 21 games
Delia shined in spurts at the NHL level during the 2018-19 season but still had things to work on in his game. After a rough start to this season at Rockford, he has come around to put together a solid campaign. Lankinen came out of the gates hot and earned an AHL All-Star nod, but he has since cooled off a bit. Tomkins was signed to a team-friendly two-year deal earlier this winter, but his sparing use indicates that he is likely an organizational depth piece.
Dominik Kubalik in the Calder Race
Dominik Kubalik has burst onto the NHL scene 2019-20. His 40 points rank third among Blackhawks skaters and are tied for third among NHL rookies. Only Vancouver's Quinn Hughes (50 points) and Colorado's Cale Makar (45 points) sit above him, but both of those names were expected to perform at a high level from the get-go. Kubalik's name flew under the radar as a European signing, but his production has not. He has been able to fill a void on Jonathan Toews' wing that has been patchworked by a rotating cast of characters to varying degrees of success ever since Marian Hossa had to prematurely hang up the skates. Kubalik flat-out knows how to find the back of the net. As the video below shows, he carries an excellent one-timer shot that can be a major weapon on the power play.
He does it in other ways too, however. His big, athletic frame allows him to shield the puck from defenders and create space in front of the net for deflection and rebound opportunities. He's also got some slick hands.
With Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Brandon Saad all seeing a dropoff in offensive numbers and the latter two names suffering injuries at various points throughout this season, Kubalik's scoring presence has been an extremely welcome sight. A strong finish to the 2019-20 campaign would certainly put him in the conversation of being a Calder Trophy finalist.
While the Blackhawks wrap up yet another disappointing season on the results front, there is still plenty to watch for in the final 19 games. From development to finding clarity to chasing honors, the home stretch of the 2019-20 campaign is where some of the groundwork for the Blackhawks' future will be laid out.