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2019 Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25: Carl Dahlstrom at No. 22

The Swedish defenseman struggled to be consistent in the NHL.

Calgary Flames v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Second City Hockey’s 2019-20 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2019. The rankings are determined by a composite score from six SCH writers and more than 70 readers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. The six SCH writers will make their ballots public after the series is completed.

After a promising second AHL season in 2017-18 that saw Carl Dahlstrom receive an 11-game NHL call up, he needed only eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 22 games before he was brought up to Chicago last December. Although there were glimpses of shutdown chemistry with Connor Murphy, it was rarely consistent over a multiple game stretch.

Two stats in particular were worrisome about Dahlstrom’s individual game: high-danger Corsi rate (HDCF%) and on-ice goals against per game (oiGA/g). In 38 NHL games, his 36.9-percent HDCF% was the worst on the team for players with more than 15 games played. When he was on the ice opponents had 164 high-danger chances (HDCA) for 4.3 HDCA per game. Duncan Keith and Erik Gustafsson were the only defenders with a higher HDCA/g rate, which looks to be a product of Gustafsson’s tendency to play a more offensive game that often left Keith facing an odd man rush or chaos in the defensive zone when they were paired together.

Combine that team worst HDCF% with the high probability of giving up a goal every game while Dahlstrom is on the ice (0.84 oiGA/g) and you start to see red flags in his development. Take a look at the decline from 2017-18 to 2018-19 in his expected goals against rate and the flip of Corsi-against (Def_CF) from above average to below.

2017-18 Season RAPM Chart
Evolving Hockey
2018-19 Season RAPM Chart
Evolving Hockey

Dahlstrom was at his best when he played more conservatively and controlled his gap, focusing on being a shutdown pair with Murphy. There were games where the duo shined by blocking shots, keeping chances against at a minimum, using their size to win puck battles and making simple, direct breakout passes. Dahlstrom has a shutdown skillset, yet too often he strayed away from it and made poor pinch decisions at the blue line, turning pucks over stickhandling through defenders in the neutral zone and letting opponents blow past him after an ineffective gap position:

What’s next?

Dahlstrom signed a $1.7-million, two-year extension in March. Chicago general manager Stan Bowman is giving him a chance to prove he can play more consistently. With Calvin de Haan still recovering from a shoulder injury, Dahlstrom will likely have a chance to play with the Blackhawks at the start of the season splitting time with Slater Koekkoek. However, if top defenseman prospect Adam Boqvist makes the team out of training camp, Dahlstrom will be the odd man out.

The main reason Dahlstrom remains in the top 25 is his flashes of impressive defensive sturdiness. Having a shutdown pair is vital for the Blackhawks’ success in 2019-20. If he doesn’t become more consistent at providing that intangible, Dahlstrom could turn into a prime candidate to be traded to open up roster spots up for others (Boqvist, Nicholas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson or Dennis Gilbert) since Dahlstrom is no longer waiver exempt.

*Advanced stats glossary - All advanced stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference, Evolving Hockey and Corsica-Hockey

CF% - The percentage of Corsi, which is the number of shots attempts (goals, shots on net, misses or blocks), that are in Chicago’s favor when Player X or Line X is on the ice. Above 50% suggests Player X or Line X spend the majority of their time on the ice possessing the puck and generating shots and scoring chances.

HDCF% - Percentage of total high danger scoring chances, while Player X is on the ice, that are for that player’s team.

oiGA/g - Goals against at even strength per game when Player X is on ice.

TOI%_QoC - The weighted average TOI% of opponents that Player X has to defend at even strength. If Player X is frequently defending against the top 6 forward group of the opposing team, their TOI%_QoC is right around or above 29.0-percent. If Player X is consistently defending bottom 6 forwards from the opponent, their TOI%_QoC is closer to 28.0 and below.

dZS% - The frequency of Player X starting their shift in the defensive zone.