Chicago Blackhawks top prospect Dylan Sikura still hasn’t decided whether to sign with the team at the conclusion of his senior season at Northeastern, reports The Athletic’s Scott Powers. The article, which is behind their paywall, is full of quotes and sources painting an uncertain situation around the young forward.
Sikura’s status will be an extremely important story for the Blackhawks during the next couple months. The 22-year-old has emerged as arguably the best player in college hockey, and could immediately insert himself into the NHL lineup upon signing. The stakes are high for Chicago to make sure to get this deal done.
The problem is that Sikura can become an unrestricted free agent in mid-August, and he appears to still be entertaining that possibility. The Blackhawks will do everything in their power to convince him to sign, including offering a two-year ELC that’ll let him become a restricted free agent in 2020, but it remains possible that he follows Kevin Hayes out the backdoor.
The good news is that we haven’t reached a point of concern yet. Hawks GM Stan Bowman recently said that the team still “absolutely” expects Sikura to sign this spring. And they’ve been diligent in making sure he understands that a big opportunity awaits if he signs with the team.
So why would Sikura pass on that in favor of fielding offers from the other 30 NHL teams in August?
The simple answer is that being able to handpick which organization to start your career is a clear benefit. Maybe he prefers to sign with a team closer to his hometown in Canada. Maybe he’s worried that a Blackhawks roster full of talented forwards will make it difficult for him to carve out a spot. Maybe he just wants to take the opportunity afforded to him having waited four years since being drafted.
And while the Blackhawks have the clear edge of being able to sign him this spring, Powers rightfully notes that the advantage becomes almost meaningless if Northeastern makes a deep run to the Frozen Four. If that happens, his college season will last long enough that he wouldn’t have much chance to play in the NHL this season.
That scenario could open the door for him to pursue free agency, and the Blackhawks would have little ability to stop it. So while you don’t necessarily want to root against the guy or his team, it’s fair to say that Northeastern’s season ending as early as possible would be beneficial to Chicago’s chances of landing him.
But the fact that we’re still having his conversation should lead to some weariness, even if the Blackhawks remain optimistic. Sikura has top-six potential and could be a cheap, key cog for next season’s team. Losing him to a peer without getting anything in return would be a brutal development.
Thankfully we’re not there yet, and it’s fair to say that the Blackhawks have done everything in their power. They signed Dylan’s brother to an AHL deal. They’ve kept tabs on him. They’ve made sure that opportunities in the NHL will be available whenever he’s ready. You could argue the Blackhawks never should’ve let it come to this, but Sikura never looked like a top prospect until his junior season, anyway. This is a tricky, unique situation that the Hawks are handling as best as they can.
Hopefully the end result is the addition of a stellar young forward to the mix for the foreseeable future. Otherwise it’ll just be another source of frustration during a year that’s provided more than enough of it.