Chicago Blackhawks, Kevin Lankinen Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The defense could be developing a solid foundation
Right behind Lankinen is Ian Mitchell. Yes, he’s almost scored on his goalie several times, but he looks like he belongs in the NHL. While he makes mistakes, he’s becoming more and more confident with each game he plays, especially moving the puck in the offensive zone. There’s really no denying his impact so far.
For those of you interested in this sort of thing, his possession metrics over the 11 games he’s played are decent.
If he’s only going to improve from this point onward, then Chicago definitely has made a step forward defensively by adding him to their roster.
By contrast, Nikita Zadorov has been…underwhelming. He’s not a rookie, but he was expected to play a major role this year. The logic of acquiring him for Brandon Saad was that Chicago needed to be bigger and have a more imposing presence on the backend, especially with so many new players suiting up this year.
Zadorov was likely intended to be a threat deterrent to make sure people weren’t taking runs at guys like Boqvist, Mitchell, or even Lankinen. The result has been so-so, and both the eye-test and metrics uphold the lack of quality in his play.
People criticized Bowman when he dealt Saad for Zadorov, and so far the experiment hasn’t really been what fans were hoping for or sold on. Big hits are fun and all, but winning games is more fun. Since this year is focused on development, Zadorov should probably be scratched for a game so someone else (Nicolas Beaudin, perhaps?) can get a shot.
Unfortunately, the fact that scratching Zadorov so a largely untested rookie can take his place is a bad sign, especially this early in the season. If this trend continues then trading Saad away will look particularly bad by the end of the year.
Last on this list is Boqvist. He’s harder to pin down because he looks alright in the offensive zone but then appears to struggle a bit defensively. Back in 2018, Boqvist was drawing comparisons to Erik Karlsson.
Karlsson is a Norris-winning defenseman that has been praised and criticized in equal measure throughout his career. One of the most persistent complaints about the former Senators captain is that he doesn’t play defense. You can go back to 2015, and even though being hailed as an elite player, people were consistently saying he was a defensive liability.
On some level, if the comparisons to Karlsson hold up, Boqvist may end up finding himself in a similar situation. Chicago may have a budding offensive-defenseman on their hands who will be plagued by people saying he’s unreliable in his own end, but too valuable offensively to trade away. Only time will tell, but personally, I’d be perfectly happy with a Norris-winning defenseman on the blue line for Chicago. Crossing my fingers that he continues progressing towards this once he clears COVID protocol.
While Lucas Carlsson and Nicolas Beaudin appear to be promising players, neither one of them has played as much as the other players on this list, so they weren’t covered here. However, it wouldn’t be shocking if Beaudin started to get more and more minutes. Even with only a few games, he looks to be legit.