Victor Ejdsell looked OK in his NHL debut on Monday against the San Jose Sharks, didn’t he?
Probably not great, but certainly not terrible, either. Sure, he was a little late on his defensive coverage, allowing San Jose’s Marcus Sorensen to get open for a first-period goal. But the large Swede didn’t look that lost while skating with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, two players who can play at a pace that isn’t easy to match. Plus, he won six of his 11 faceoffs, a rarity among Chicago centers not named Jonathan Toews.
And that’s good, because the Hawks need more of it.
New signings Dylan Sikura and Blake Hillman, two Chicago draft picks, could both be in the lineup for their NHL debuts on Thursday night when the Hawks host the Winnipeg Jets. Hillman hasn’t had much hype around him, but Sikura was the talk of the 2017 prospect camp and has been flying up the list of future players to keep an eye on.
Sikura doesn’t have to light up the scoreboard in his NHL debut — though it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Just a performance that would suggest the potential for quality minutes in the 2018-19 season and maybe even more in the following season would suffice during the serious look SIkura is likely to get over the next week-and-a-half.
A strong showing from Sikura would add yet another name into the mix of young players who’ve made solid impressions during this NHL season. That list was already long, too. Alex DeBrincat has been everything the Hawks could’ve hoped. Nick Schmaltz showed the second half of his rookie season was a better indication of what he can do. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to prove he belongs in the NHL and maybe even in a top-six role. Connor Murphy has overcome a rough start to become one of the Hawks’ better defensemen in the back half of the schedule. David Kampf looks like a solid bottom-six forward in the future. The list of things that have gone wrong this season is longer, because this is a team that’s missing the playoffs, but a lot of the young players are emerging into worthwhile NHL players — and that’s a vital development.
Because there really isn’t another option.
We’ve been down this road on a few separate occasions before, but it’s worth mentioning again: tanking for a few more percentage points in the NHL’s draft lottery isn’t worth it for the Hawks. Outside of Rasmus Dahlin (and the odds of actually getting him are incredibly thin), there isn’t as much buzz about any of the top draft picks making immediate picks on the teams that draft them. And pinning your team’s hopes for a turnaround in a teenager feels risky, doesn’t it? No, this current group needs to put it together, somehow.
Plus, the total tear-down and rebuild that has been clamored for in certain portions of the fan base is largely impossible because of the plethora of no-movement clauses attached to the contracts of Chicago’s biggest stars. Ultimately, it feels like this current group is going to have two more swings at a fourth Cup before the league heads into yet another wonderful lockout after the 2019-20 season (forgive my lack of optimism for the NHL averting this looming disaster). By that summer, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be 32 and 31, respectively, Duncan Keith will be 37 and Brent Seabrook will be 35. Corey Crawford will be 35 and his current deal will have reached its end. That summer feels like the ultimate point of no return.
But we’re not there yet. And that’s why it’s so crucial for guys like Ejdsell, like Sikura, like Hillman, like DeBrincat, like Schmaltz, like Kampf, like Hinostroza, like Murphy, like John Hayden, like Anthony Duclair — who are all 25 and under — to get on the ice and find some success in these final weeks, so that next season they can help shoulder more of the load it takes to get this team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs — and maybe even all the way to its conclusion.