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Lance Bouma is earning his place on Blackhawks’ 4th line

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Bouma has played surprisingly well in his first month with Chicago.

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

One of the key elements that the Blackhawks sought on the free agent market over the summer was physicality. They clearly felt they missed that in the playoffs against Nashville, so they added players who they felt would make the team “tougher to play against.” We all knew what that meant.

Some of the moves were more strongly received than others, but one in particular took some heat. That was the one-year, $1 million deal given to winger Lance Bouma, whose signing was announced not long as Tommy Wingels. I personally was among those who didn’t see like the move, and didn’t see how he would help the Blackhawks.

Bouma had struggled the previous two seasons with 14 points and brutal shot numbers in 105 games with the Flames. This was supposed to be one of the Hawks’ answers to their lack of depth?

Now a month into the season, it’s fair to say I was wrong. One issue I had with the deal — that Bouma and Wingels feel redundant — remains somewhat intact despite their fantastic play of late. Whether the Blackhawks have the right mix to afford that kind of checking fourth line, instead of pursuing more scoring, is an open question.

But in terms of Bouma specifically, and whether he was worth bringing aboard, the answer seems to be strongly in the affirmative now. It’s apparent from the eye test when you see him throwing his weight around and freeing pucks on the forecheck. It’s also apparent in his numbers, which look surprisingly good this season.

As of Monday, Bouma is sixth among Hawks forwards in GS/60, which measures a player’s overall contributions per 60 minutes, according to Corsica. He only has three points, but he’s driving possession (54 percent 5-on-5 Corsi) and has drawn six penalties, which is tied for second on the team. He’s also third on the team with 36 hits, which, hey, that’s part of what he was brought in to do.

When Bouma and Wingels are on the ice together, they have a 5-on-5 Corsi of 54.7 percent, per Natural Stat Trick. When Bouma is on without Wingels, he’s at 52.9 percent, while Wingels drops to 37.5 percent without Bouma. Yes, those are increasingly small samples when separated, but it’s reflective of the positive impact Bouma has been making on his primary linemate so far.

The reality for the Blackhawks is that their issues go way beyond a guy like Bouma, who only plays 9-10 minutes a night. So far, he’s done well in his role, and shown that the team can at least check off one of its boxes for a physical, checking fourth-line winger. Unfortunately, that’s not a very important role when the stars aren’t producing.

But given the criticism the Bouma signing took over the summer, including from yours truly, it’s worth noting that he’s actually been among the Hawks’ better forwards this season. Changes to the fourth line might be in store eventually, but Bouma’s spot on the left wing should be safe for now.