Not-so-breaking news: the 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks didn’t score enough goals.
But putting the puck in the net was also an issue for the Blackhawks last season. Some of the star players were part of that, like Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane. But the depth scoring also took a step back last year.
The breakout players from the 2016-17 season, from a depth scoring perspective, were Richard Panik and Ryan Hartman. Panik found himself on Chicago’s top line that season and turned in a career-high 22 goals. Hartman chipped in with 19 during his rookie season. After disappointing starts in 2017-18, both players were shipped out of town. And with those two gone, no other depth forward had the type of breakout season that is usually required for NHL teams to reach the top of the regular season standings.
Looking at the Hawks roster, there were four players who figure to be part of this team’s future and appeared in at least 20 games during the 2017-18 season. For brevity’s sake, we’ll keep the focus of the article to this quartet as an attempt to examine where the depth scoring went last season and who could provide it in the future.
After getting a dozen games at the end of the 2016-17 season following his college finale at Yale, Hayden appeared in 47 games this season with four goals and nine assists. Those games came largely in the first half of the season, with Hayden sent to the AHL, with the talk that the Hawks wanted to get him more playing time in more situations. In 24 games with the IceHogs, Hayden had 5 goals and 12 assists. His production has tapered in the Calder Cup Playoffs, with just one goal in seven games. Hayden’s obvious positives start with his large 6-foot-3, 223-pound frame that moves well enough on the ice. Coach Joel Quenneville apparently believes that Hayden has defensive reliability, because no Hawk forward started in the defensive zone more than Hayden. He’s a restricted free agent after this season and figures to be back with the Hawks next year. Whether that future is in Chicago or Rockford will be up for debate next fall.
Another player who started in the defensive zone as much as anyone, Jurco scored six goals and added four assists in his 29 games played, most at the end of the season while skating on Chicago’s bottom six. He also had solid production in Rockford, scoring 13 goals with 12 assists in 36 games with the AHL. Jurco is another restricted free agent in the offseason, and with a cap hit of just $800,000, he figures to be a cheap option to return to the team. But Jurco will turn 26 just after Christmas in 2018 and the forward corps is jamming up with candidates for bottom six roles that Jurco would likely be destined for, as he’s still never displayed the ability to produce like a top-six forward. If the Hawks decide to give him a final shot, it seems like the ultimate make-or-break season for Jurco in Chicago, and maybe in the NHL altogether.
Acquired for Panik in January, Duclair got 23 games with the Hawks before the ever-obnoxious Brad Marchand clotheslined Duclair into a season-ending injury. Duclair amassed just two goals and six assists in his brief Chicago tenure. The points aren’t there, but Duclair continued his career-long trend at putting up possession metrics above the team rate, sporting a 53.31 CF% in Chicago that was two percent over the team rate, per Natural Stat Trick. Like Jurco, Duclair had some moments where he looked the part of a valuable piece further down Chicago’s lineup, but nowhere near consistent enough. Duclair will be 23 by the start of the next season and has already been traded twice in his career. Also like Jurco, he seems like a cheap option to bring back as a restricted free agent in the pending offseason. But he’ll need to catch the coaching staff’s eye early in the next training camp or be lost in the mess of players auditioning for a similar role come September.
I save Hinostroza for the end because I’d have him high on my list for potential breakout players next season. His 25 points (7 goals, 18 assists) in just 50 games placed him 10th on the team, a jump from the 14 points in 49 games during the 2016-17 season. But Hinostroza’s CF% jumped from 47.19 to 53.7 despite no substantial difference in his zone starts. And there were times when Hinostroza has flashed strong puck skills, such as this game-winner from December 2016:
His numbers tapered down the stretch, with no goals and just two assists in his final 15 games. But there were brief spurts of production. Seven points in six games between late December and early January. Three goals in four games in late January and early February.
And in a league that just keeps getting faster, a player with Hinostroza’s wheels seems ripe for a 15-20 goal season if he can put it all together. Will he do that? My reply is a solid ... “I hope so.” Put it this way: a player like Hinostroza going off for 20 goals and continuing similar production in the playoffs is what can transform a good season into a great one.