Lack of center depth finally caught up with the Blackhawks

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It’s been a slow burn for the Chicago Blackhawks. But now more than ever, it is evident that the organization has groped the central position.

Jonathan Toews, a Blackhawks mainstay for over 15 years, carried the torch of handyman for Chicago. Winning all important faceoffs, playing the best minutes on the front row, playing on the power play and shorthanded, leading the team in and out of the ice, etc. However, since being drafted third by Chicago in 2006, the Blackhawks have yet to find another player like him for his job. But not for lack of trying.

13 years after drafting Toews in third place, the Blackhawks drafted Kirby Dach in third place, with the idea that he would be the one to end up replacing Toews as a jack-of-all-trades center. But after 112 games in the NHL, mostly as a center, it looks like Dach might not be that player. The Blackhawks may soon find themselves without anyone to fill one of the most important positions when building a winning hockey team.

Jonathan Toews’ health has been a major concern for almost a year. At this point in the calendar in 2020, we learned that Toews would miss the start of the 2020-21 season, and end up missing all year. We now know this was due to Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and Toews was feeling the effects until February of the 2019-20 season. Last summer he announced he would be returning to the squad for this season, but major questions remained as to what kind of player Toews would be when he returned. So far this season, he hasn’t been the Jonathan Toews of yesteryear.

In 30 games, Toews has scored just three goals and 13 points, earning his lowest NHL career points total (while playing the fewest NHL career minutes per game). ). And remember, it took him 25 games (!) To find his first goal of the season this year. Needless to say, even for Toews himself, the season has not been what he had hoped for.

Toews does most of the things scoring away from him that you’d expect him to. Playing both on the power play and on the penalty kill, taking most of the big faceoffs and playing in the Blackhawks’ top six forwards pool. But that’s not the same thing, and we also don’t know when or if Toews will be able to revert to his version of being 100% on the ice.

Since making his NHL debut in 2007, Toews has played 1,100 games with the Blackhawks between the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. He won three Stanley Cups, the Conn Smythe in 2010, the Selke in 2013 and was a four-time NHL All Star. He will see his number 19 retired by the Blackhawks and become one of the best players the organization has ever seen. But what happens when Toews, very soon, is no longer able to be the best center?

Kirby Dach, when he is only 20, is not the answer.

After being selected third overall in 2019, the Blackhawks had high hopes that Dach would immediately enter the NHL, make an impact and soon be dubbed the next “it” kid in Chicago. In 112 career NHL games, Dach has scored 15 goals and 46 points, averaging 16:19 minutes per game in his career, and 19:20 per game in the 2021-22 season. He’s a big 6’4 ”, over 200lb kid, still maturing in his body, which is good when you look at a player you want to be an NHL center. He’s learning to play effectively at both ends of the ice, which again is great for a budding NHL center. But through more than 100 games in the NHL, he has a career 35.1% winning percentage at the faceoff point and a 32.7% mark in the 2021-22 season.

Of 146 NHL players to have taken at least 700 face-offs since the start of the 2019-20 season, Dach ranks 146th with his winning percentage of 35.1%. Jack Hughes, the top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, leads Dach just 0.3% by point but has made over 400 more face-offs in his career. It’s the biggest glaring hole in his game that keeps him from being the next “it” player for the Blackhawks.

Athletic’s Scott Powers and Daily Herald’s John Dietz both looked at Dach’s play and pitched his development as Chicago’s next best center. Face-off putrid numbers aside, a big part of what holds Dach back is his ability to finish scoring chances. His 15 goals in 112 NHL games only add up to an average of 82 games of 11 goals. Your best center player isn’t allowed to score just 11 goals in a season, unless he also has over 60 assists, which Dach obviously isn’t.

Since the 2019-20 season, 14 forwards have played over 600 full-strength minutes for the Blackhawks. For scores per 60 minutes, Dach ranks 12th for goals (0.50), 11th for points (1.46), 12th for shots (5.87), 8th for expected goals (0.71) and 11th for scoring chances (6.33). In most categories, the only Dach forwards consistently rank higher than fourth-row forwards David Kämpf and Ryan Carpenter. This isn’t the production you need from a player who is: A) selected third overall, and B) supposed to be Jonathan Toews’ sequel.

If you ask me, the jury is out: Dach is a winger.

So that leaves the Blackhawks with a leading center of the future. Again, it’s not for lack of trying, but rather for lack of good decisions. Here’s a quick look over the past decade of what the Blackhawks have done to take center stage through the draft and free agency, especially after Dave Bolland left after the 2013 season.

In 2011, the Blackhawks drafted Mark McNeill (18th), but could have drafted William Karlsson (53rd) or Vincent Trochek (64th). They also drafted Philip Danault, who was eventually traded.

In 2012, the Blackhawks used draft picks over Dillon Fournier (48th), Chris Calnan (79th) and Garret Ross (139th), all of whom have never played in the NHL, and could have drafted Andreas Athanasiou (110th) or Alex Kerfoot (150th) in this same draft class. They also drafted Teuvo Teräväinen that year, who was eventually traded.

In 2014, Chicago missed Brayden Point (79th) by five picks, ultimately selecting Matteson Iacopelli, who has never played in the NHL. They also drafted Nick Schmaltz that year, who was eventually traded.

In 2015, Chicago had a double hit in the draft when they selected Graham Knott (54th), who has never played in the NHL, when they could have drafted Anthony Cirelli (72nd). Later in that same draft, they drafted both Radovan Bondra (151st) and Roy Radke (164th), both never having played in the NHL, and could have drafted Mason Appleton (168th).

Also, since Dave Bolland left the Blackhawks, there has been a revolving door of second-line crosses for the Blackhawks, who were all the short-term type. These include Michal Handzus (2013 and 2013-14), Brad Richards (2014-15), Artem Anisimov (2015-2019), Nick Schmaltz (2016-18) and currently Dylan Strome.

What future for the Blackhawks? Since Dach was selected third in the 2019 NHL Draft (six spots ahead of Trevor Zegras), the Blackhawks have selected a handful of players considered to be center players at the prospect level: Lukas Reichel, Colton Dach, Ilya Safonov and Jalen Luypen. . It’s far too early to tell for most of these players, but one has stood out in the past two seasons since being drafted by Chicago.

Lukas Reichel gives Chicago hockey fans something to look forward to at the central position. In two years playing in the German DEL as a center for Eisbären Berlin, Reichel skated in 80 professional games and recorded 22 goals and 51 points in the regular season, and two goals and five points in nine games during the playoffs. 2020-21, helping they win the DEL Championship.

Since arriving in North America and playing with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, Reichel has eight goals and 14 points in 18 games. He leads the team in both categories and has played on the front row as a center for most of the season.

Reichel has a major “Teuvo” vibe with his physical stature and skill, but his game is played more around the net than Teräväinen in his youth. Again, it’s still early to tell, but based on his professional performances away from home, at Blackhawks training camp and with the IceHogs this season, Reichel looks like a player who could make a difference at the level. of the NHL.

Does that translate to the next “do it all” center in the NHL? In Reichel’s case, probably not.

What we have left after more than a decade of the Stan Bowman era of Blackhawks hockey is still three Stanley Cups, at least four Hall of Fame players, a sexual assault cover-up scandal and an already hole. blatant in the organization that, unless Kyle Davidson (or whoever will be the permanent GM) can fix it quickly, could prevent the team from fighting for the Stanley Cup for years to come.



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