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3 up, 3 down after 5-3-0 stretch for Blackhawks

Who is trending up and down to start 2020?

New York Islanders v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Here’s the sixth installment to Second City Hockey’s stock report series after a 5-3-0 stretch for Chicago starting Dec. 18 vs. Colorado through Jan. 2 at Vancouver.

Trending Up

1. Dominik Kubalik

Kubalik has been a pleasant surprise all season and is producing his way into the future core of the Blackhawks’ top 9 forwards. In Kubalik’s last eight games he’s collected eight points, including dishing out three primary assists against the Canucks on Thursday. He’s also buried three goals in the aforementioned stretch, including this smooth five-hole finish in Winnipeg:

Kubalik has 11 goals on the season, which is second most for NHL rookies, and is only five goals from tying the leader, Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson, who’s injured for the next five to six weeks. If Kubalik continues to average 2.1 shots per game, he will have a realistic shot at winning the rookie goal scoring title. Plus, he will have an even better chance of vaulting to the top of the leaderboard when Brandon Saad returns from the Injured Reserve and reclaims his spot on the top line with Kubalik and Jonathan Toews.

2. Adam Boqvist

Although the rookie defenseman hasn’t shown off his offensive prowess lately with two assists and nine shots in his last eight games, he’s been steady on defense with Duncan Keith. At 5-on-5, Boqvist has a 48.3-percent Corsi-For and leads Chicago defensemen with a 45.7-percent expected goals for and a 48.8-percent scoring chance for rate. Boqvist’s metrics are certainly bumped by having Keith as a partner and from starting 58.3-percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. Yet, since his initial NHL call up in late October, Boqvist has shown noticeable progression in his gap control and play reading ability.

Here’s a solid gap recovery and takeaway from the Blue JacketsZach Werenski on a 1-on-1:

There were concerns that Boqvist wasn’t ready to defend at the NHL level, but as of late he’s shown he can handle the speed and playmaking ability of NHL opponents more often than not. With Keith mentoring Boqvist on a daily basis and his confidence trending upwards, the No. 8 overall pick from 2018 is in the midst of an exciting developmental path.

3. Dylan Sikura

After getting benched for the majority of the game in Colorado on Dec. 21 and being a healthy scratch for three straight games, Sikura finally got an opportunity to impress Jeremy Colliton on the wing with Patrick Kane and Ryan Carpenter in the last two games. Sikura didn’t disappoint and played some his best hockey at the NHL level. He collected two assists, three individual scoring chances and was noticeably hustling all over the ice, especially on neutral and offensive zone forechecks.

Here’s a takeaway against the Flames that directly led to Kane finding Olli Maatta wide open in the high slot for a goal:

Sikura also showed off some nice playmaking ability with Kane on 3-on-2 rushes and on give-and-go’s during extended offensive zone shifts. If Sikura can keep up this pace of play with Kane and Carpenter, he certainly deserves more playing time until Drake Caggiula and Saad return from injuries.

Trending Down

1. John Quenneville

In five games since being called up on Dec. 21, Quenneville has struggled to impact the game offensively on the wing with Kubalik and Jonathan Toews. At 5-on-5 Quenneville has eight shots, including two high-danger scoring chances, but he’s coughed up three giveaways and has a 46.0-percent Corsi-For and a 23.8-percent high-danger scoring chance share.

Quenneville does provide a physical presence with the second most hits out of the Blackhawks’ forward group at 12; however, it’s clear his style of play is more suited for a bottom six role. When Caggiula or Saad returns, Quenneville will likely be the odd man out and return to the AHL to continue developing his skillset.

2. Dylan Strome at the faceoff dot

In the past eight games, Strome has struggled at the faceoff dot. At 5-on-5, he’s won 33 of 75 faceoffs, which is a 44.0-percent mark.

Strome has been producing at a nice rate with six points in those eight games, but he could provide even more of an offensive spark by improving his faceoff efficiency as he starts 58.0-percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. Getting stronger at the dot will lead to more puck possession and shot attempts from his linemates Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach and will make the trio even more of a dangerous scoring threat.

3. Power play conversions

The Blackhawks continue to have a tough time converting with the man advantage as they’ve only potted four power play goals in their last 32 attempts, which is a 12.5-percent conversion rate.

It continues to baffle me how an extremely talented top unit compromised of DeBrincat, Kane, Strome and Toews can’t find their rhythm. There’s been flashes of hope when they force the defenders out of their comfort zone and box formation with interchanges between Toews, Kane and DeBrincat and quick shots from the point, but too often the unit become stagnant and tries to force the seam pass from Kane to DeBrincat.

With all the tape out there on DeBrincat burying one-timers from Kane, the penalty killers know exactly what to do when Kane gets the puck at the top of the right circle. I’d like to see Toews and DeBrincat switch in and out of the bumper position more often and for Kane to use the quick give-and-go option from Strome that we saw against the Flames:

When you have the penalty killers guessing what’s going to happen next with the puck, it makes it a lot easier to find passing and shooting lanes with a man advantage. Getting some momentum on the power play will play a huge part in Chicago trying to jump back into the playoff bubble.

What’s next?

The Blackhawks host the Red Wings at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at United Center.

Advanced stats courtesy of Charting Hockey, Corsica-Hockey, Evolving Hockey, Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick