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Blackhawks 1st quarter player reviews: Forwards

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How have the Hawks’ 13 forwards fared so far?

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The first quarter of the Blackhawks’ season was underwhelming in a lot of ways. The offense’s best moments have been weighed down by a bad power play, so the team is just 17th in goals for. The defense has been far worse, ranking 29th in xGA per 60 minutes, according to Corsica.

If it weren’t for Corey Crawford, this team might be in some real trouble. The star goaltender has thankfully been so good with a .933 save percentage (tied for best in the NHL) that the Hawks are still firmly in the mix with a 10-8-2 record. They’ve been afforded some time to weather some serious early season issues to come out looking like a team with reason for hope.

However, it cannot be understated how important Crawford has been to this team. The Blackhawks are playing at a blazing fast pace where both teams are piling tons of shots on goal. Chicago is winning the 5-on-5 shot battle with a 51.1 percent Corsi, good for 11th in the league, but it’s giving up a lot of shots in dangerous areas.

The good news is that his brilliance gave them some breathing room to maintain a decent record amid some serious issues on the defensive end that are beginning to be sorted out.

Now let’s run through how each player has performed thus far after roughly a quarter of the season, starting with the forwards. The two fancy stats there are Game Score, a one-in-all statistic by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn, and xG plus-minus, which is a player’s plus-minus based on expected goals.

Forwards

Patrick Kane

6 goals, 13 assists
Penalty differential: +2
Game Score: +19.48
xG plus-minus: +8.75

The Blackhawks’ best skater, by no surprise, has been Kane. He’s produced even more per minute at even strength than the past two seasons, so his dip in production is the result of playing fewer minutes and power play struggles. However, it’s worth noting that the team’s top player is just 35th in the NHL in Game Score, another example of their underwhelming start.

Brandon Saad

7 goals, 3 assists
Penalty differential: +6
Game Score: +16.27
xG plus-minus: +6.28

Saad has cooled off after a hot start, but the advanced stats love him just like the coaches because he does all the little things right. The 25-year-old is a possession-driving machine who doesn’t seem far off from another scoring spurt — he’s up to 10 expected goals, so he’s three behind — even if you’d like to see him do a bit more as a playmaker.

Jonathan Toews

5 goals, 8 assists
Penalty differential: -7
Game Score: +16.23
xG plus-minus: +4.36

Toews is having another solid season, but the lack of point production and penalty issues stand out for a player with a $10.5 million cap hit. While he does well in just about every other area and is a net positive despite high quality of competition, the very best players do that AND put up tons of points, too.

Richard Panik

5 goals, 7 assists
Penalty differential: -5
Game Score: +15.4
xG plus-minus: +7.88

Panik is producing even more than last season, making his two-year, $5.6 million extension look like a smart move by the Blackhawks. The penalties need to be reined in a bit, but otherwise he looks like a very good supporting winger.

Artem Anisimov

10 goals, 2 assists
Penalty differential: +1
Game Score: +12.23
xG plus-minus: -0.62

After a dreadful start to the season on the third line, Anisimov has found his mojo with nine goals in the past 10 games. He’s a far better fit as a working man between two super-skilled wingers than as a center who needs to do the playmaking and possession driving himself, so the elevation to the second line has done wonders for him.

Alex DeBrincat

7 goals, 5 assists
Penalty differential: +4
Game Score: +11.49
xG plus-minus: +3.34

DeBrincat is proving to be the real deal as an immediate impact player for the Blackhawks out of the OHL. He’s not going to be a 40-goal scorer from Day 1, but he’s a quality middle-six winger who can win puck battles, show some creativity, and finish plays. Just as impressively, he hasn’t committed a penalty yet through 20 games. A remarkable showing of discipline from a rookie trying to show he belongs.

Nick Schmaltz

3 goals, 8 assists
Penalty differential: +1
Game Score: +11.1
xG plus-minus: +4.00

Schmaltz’s ability to make plays with speed is special, and he’s looked more free to do his thing since recently moving from center to left wing, where he has fewer defensive responsibilities lower in the zone. The Blackhawks are at their best when Schmaltz is a danger every time he steps on the ice.

Ryan Hartman

4 goals, 6 assists
Penalty differential: +2
Game Score: +9.11
xG plus-minus: -4.47

It’s been a rough season for Hartman once you get past the five-point season opener. He has just five points in 18 games since then, punctuated by the current seven-game point drought that he’s on. The most worrisome sign? His shots/60 rate during 5-on-5 play has dipped from 10.7 as a rookie to just 6.6 this season. We’ll see if his current foray into playing center sticks.

Lance Bouma

1 goal, 4 assists
Penalty differential: +3
Game Score: +6.44
xG plus-minus: +2.1

Expectations were low for Bouma after a couple rough years in Calgary, and he’s done well in a relatively undemanding role on the fourth line. He gives the Hawks some of that physicality they like to have in an 11th or 12th forward, and brings just enough offense to make that a palatable deal. Definitely an upgrade on what Jordin Tootoo brought a year ago in a similar role.

John Hayden

2 goals, 5 assists
Penalty differential: -1
Game Score: +5.53
xG plus-minus: -3.67

Hayden has endeared himself to a lot of fans with some nice goals and big hits early on, but the overall results aren’t as impressive. Only Tanner Kero has a worse 5-on-5 Corsi, and only Kero and Ryan Hartman have worse expected goal numbers. Hayden’s best moments stand out more than the extended stretches where he’s not helping so much.

Patrick Sharp

2 goals, 2 assists
Penalty differential: +2
Game Score: +5.13
xG plus-minus: +1.33

Oh, Mr. Sharp. Over the past 14 games, he has zero points and a minus-9 rating. On a surface level, he couldn’t really be playing any worse right now. And sadly, the underlying numbers aren’t that much better, as he’s just been unable to string together impactful performances on the offensive end. A healthy scratch or two might be in order sooner than later.

Tommy Wingels

1 goal, 2 assists
Penalty differential: +4
Game Score: +3.46
xG plus-minus: -1.37

Wingels has beaten out Tanner Kero for the fourth-line center gig, but he hasn’t been particularly effective in it, either. Matching up against other fourth-line competition isn’t exactly a tall task, and Wingels is still among the worst Hawks with a minus-6 on-ice goal differential during 5-on-5 play.

Tanner Kero

1 goal, 2 assists
Penalty differential: +2
Game Score: +2.52
xG plus-minus: -4.76

To put it bluntly, Kero lost his spot in the lineup for a reason. He’s now played 72 NHL games with just 22 points and a 46.7 percent even strength Corsi. He’s not good enough defensively to fill the Marcus Kruger role, nor skilled enough offensive to be a difference-maker that way. He’s a tweener who is fine as the 13th forward, but not much else.