Chicago Blackhawks star defenseman Duncan Keith will be gunning for another big year on offense, but needs to reverse some troubling trends in his own zone
Over the past three seasons, Chicago Blackhawks ace defenseman Duncan Keith ranks fifth among all NHL blueliners in both assists (116) and points (141). While the two-time Norris Trophy winner shows no sign of slowing down offensively, Keith needs to tighten up play in his own zone as he leads the ‘Hawks’ fresh-faced D-corps into the 2017-18 season.
With just six weeks to go until opening night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, we’re continuing Blackhawk Up’s annual projections of key Blackhawks players’ goals, assists and points next season based on three-year trends, career averages and potential linemates. Here’s the over/under projection for Keith.
Last three regular season statistics
- 2014-15: 80 games, 10 goals, 35 assists, 45 points, plus-12 rating, 25:33 TOI.
- 2015-16: 67 games, 9 goals, 34 assists, 43 points, plus-13 rating, 25:14 TOI.
- 2016-17: 80 games, 6 goals, 47 assists, 53 points, plus-22 rating, 25:37 TOI.
Career average (12 years): 76 games, 8 goals, 35 assists, 43 points, plus-14 rating, 25:20 TOI.
- Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy — Probable.
- Jan Rutta, Ville Pokka — Possible.
- Michal Rozsival — Outside shot.
Projection: 8 goals, 43 assists, 51 points.
Posting 53 points last season, Keith is coming off his third-best year offensively, and his 141 points over the last three seasons is second only to the 158 points he notched from 2008 thru 2011. So it’s clear the 34-year-old blueliner has a lot left in the tank, although his 3.3 shooting percentage last year is two points below his cumulative 5.3 percent average over the past three seasons. With that in mind, I see Keith tallying eight goals this season off 161 shots and a 5.0 shooting percentage.
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Keith seems to have fully recovered from the surgery on his right knee that sidelined him for a month early in the 2015-16 season, and he’s maintained his team-leading average ice time at close to 25:30 minutes throughout the last three years (and entire career).
Always a fierce competitor, Keith has played a smarter physical game lately, and his penalty minutes have steadily declined over the years to a career-low — almost gentlemanly — 16 minutes last season. Keeping Keith and his playmaking skill on the ice will be crucial to the Blackhawks’ success, and look for him to contribute 43 helpers this season.
Tighten up on defense
While Duncs continues to put heavy pressure on opposing goaltenders, he’s beginning to falter a bit in his own zone. Sure, Keith’s 32 takeaways led the ‘Hawks’ defensemen last season, but his 73 giveaways ranked second only to Seabrook’s horrendous 88 gifts to opponents. In a troubling trend, Keith’s ratio of giveaways-to-takeaways has increased over the past three years from an okay 1.5:1 ratio to a worrisome 2.3:1 ratio.
Perhaps age is finally catching up with Keith, but the quick and agile defenseman from years past appears to be losing a step to some of the league’s younger, faster players. There were too many occasions last season when Keith was outraced to a loose puck or outmaneuvered around the net, resulting in a goal against the ‘Hawks.
For an extreme example (and he wasn’t alone here), Keith was on the ice for Nashville’s game-winning-goal in each of the first two games of the Blackhawks’ first round 2017 playoff loss to the Preds, and finished with a wretched minus-6 rating over the four-game series.
Writer prediction: Over
Keith may have slowed a bit from his younger days, but he’s still the engine that powers the Blackhawks — at both ends of the ice, and in all situations. His elite playmaking skill, amazing vision in the offensive zone and startlingly effective point shot have kept him among the league’s top-5 blueliners for 12 years, and will help him exceed his career average with 51 points this season.
Let’s hope Keith can shore up his play in front of netminder Corey Crawford this season and help lead the ‘Hawks to a Central Division championship and long playoff run.