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Young Guns Report: Tracking the progress of Blackhawks’ developing defensemen, goalies

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A look at where the young defenders and goalie are statistically after a quarter of the season.

Carolina Hurricanes v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Since 2010, the Blackhawks have drafted more defensemen than players of any other skater position — about 5 percent more than wingers and almost 12 percent more than centers — and goalie the least. However, neither strategy has been particularly successful. The last defensemen the Blackhawks drafted and developed was Niklas Hjalmarsson, selected 16 years ago, while the last goalie the Blackhawks drafted and developed was Corey Crawford, drafted 18 years ago.

To be fair, for several years the Blackhawks had three of the best top-four defensemen in the league in Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson while Crawford was one of the best goalies in the league to never be nominated for a Vezina. Instead of worrying about homegrown talent, the organization found complementary players to fill out the rest of the defense through trade (Johnny Oduya, Nick Leddy) and free agent signings (Michal Rozsival), and they felt comfortable sticking with Crawford into his 30s since goalies typically have later peaks than skaters. This strategy resulted in Stanley Cups, so it’s easy to give the Blackhawks a pass on the lack of development at these two positions, but now they really need a few of their young defensemen and goalies to develop into a new core.

Luckily, the Blackhawks have several great candidates — draftees, traded players, and free agent signings — playing in the NHL this season, and so far it looks like The Plan™ to invest in the young players is trending in the right direction.

Notes:

  • This series will include any player that is 25 or younger who plays at least one NHL game this season.
  • This sample size is not quite 10 games since the last article because of scheduling changes, but it’s close enough that we should be able to evaluate new or ongoing trends for most of the players.
  • Remember, any stats used are just a starting point for analysis — not a definitive evaluation of a player. Shot metrics are from Natural Stat Trick. Even-strength offense/defense goals above replacement, wins above replacement, and goals saved above expected are from Evolving-Hockey.
  • Sorry in advance to mobile users — the tables are unlikely to display clearly.

Nicolas Beaudin (21)

Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
2020-21 19 13:46 1.38 1.6 -1.2 0.3 37.72% 50% 37.10% 66.67% 105.4

Most common partner(s) at 5-on-5: Zadorov (97:46)

Beaudin has continued to impress and it’s easy to see his confidence growing, especially in terms of offense. In his first five games, Beaudin had only one point, but he had four in his last five. As a result, his even-strength offense goals above replacement (2.9) tops the defense group. Beaudin did start nearly 70 percent of the time in the offensive zone, but that was true earlier in the season too.

After Boqvist was sidelined with COVID, Beaudin got some power-play time. He was initially with the second unit but was promoted to the top unit quickly. In that span, he contributed to the highest shot attempt rate (81.69) and was on pace for the best expected goal percentage (93.54). Even though the power play has predictably regressed, Beaudin is still an asset with the man-advantage.

Defensively, Beaudin has been fairly steady — he leans to playing a simple, positionally sound style of defense. His shot metrics at 5-on-5 are terrible but that’s a team-wide issue. Still, Beaudin and Zadorov do have the worst shot metrics relative to the rest of the team, which could prove disastrous if goaltending regresses negatively even a little.

Beaudin isn’t as highly skilled as Boqvist or as well-rounded as Mitchell, but his high hockey IQ is obvious and steady, smart players are always useful to compliment those that are more flashy.

Adam Boqvist (20)

Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
2020-21 32 17:09 1.64 0.3 -2.5 0 48.61% 47.22% 45.99% 64.95% 99.5
2019-20 41 16:13 1.17 5.2 -1.6 0.9 47.38% 53.57% 46.45% 57.26% 101.6

Most common partner(s) at 5-on-5: Keith (42:28), Zadorov (34:19)

Boqvist has only played two games since the last article after missing time due to COVID, which is unfortunately too small to evaluate any stats in a meaningful way.

He was fairly quiet in his first game back — not a bad thing for a defensemen — but was more noticeable in a positive way in the second. Like the rest of the Blackhawks against the Hurricanes, Boqvist’s shot metrics were well-below average, but he was using his stick well to breakup plays at the blue line and in the neutral zone.

Interesting to note, Boqvist received the second lowest on-ice save percentage (.900) and shooting percentage (3.77) at 5-on-5, resulting in him having the lowest PDO on the team. There is likely a positive regression in his future.

Madison Bowey (25)

Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
2020-21 2 11:08 2.69 0 0.1 0.1 48.65% 100.00% 51.76% 100% 110.0
2019-20 53 17:54 1.07 7 -6.1 -0.5 44.12% 41.46% 41.88% 58.76% 98.7

Most common partner(s) at 5-on-5: De Haan (5:54), Keith (5:16)

Again, two games is just not a large enough sample size to evaluate a player meaningfully, especially when he barely played over 21 minutes in both games combined.

Bowey wasn’t particularly noticeable the two games he played. He isn’t devoid of skill — he broke out offensively with the Red Wings last season — but there was little to no flash of that offense in his limited minutes. He did have one assist, but it was secondary from the neutral zone. Bowey was also quiet defensively, but that’s a good thing. He did provide some physicality with four hits.

Overall, Bowey was fine — he’s not likely in the long-term plans for the Blackhawks, so fine is perfectly acceptable for a depth defensemen.

Lucas Carlsson (23)

Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
2020-21 10 12:43 0 -1.2 0.4 -0.1 45.28% 50.00% 46.01% 43.48% 101.1
2019-20 6 14:08 0.71 1.8 0.4 0.4 47.18% 66.67% 48.43% 43.75% 106.7

Most common partner(s) at 5-on-5: De Haan (52:42), Keith (36:21)

With Connor Murphy sidelined by a hip injury, Carlsson and Calvin De Haan have been getting the largest share of defensive zone starts and facing the highest quality of competition outside of Duncan Keith. Despite the more difficult usage, Carlsson had the third lowest shots against per 60 rate (30.67) and second lowest expected goals against per 60 (2.48) among defensemen.

Carlsson also got more time on the penalty kill, averaging 1:10 in the last six games with Murphy out. The PK has the lowest shot attempt against rate (33.96) and expected goals against rate (0.78) with Carlsson on the ice. Granted, those numbers are somewhat skewed due to the small sample of ice time, so it’d be interesting to see if his good results would hold steady given an expanded role on the PK.

Conversely, Carlsson still isn’t clicking offensively despite some good underlying trends with shot and expected goal rates. He is the only defensemen without a point.

Kevin Lankinen (25)

Season Games Played Shots Against per 60 Shots Against per 60 5v5 Save % Save % 5v5 Expected Save % Goals Saved Above Expected Goals Saved Above Average
Season Games Played Shots Against per 60 Shots Against per 60 5v5 Save % Save % 5v5 Expected Save % Goals Saved Above Expected Goals Saved Above Average
2020-21 31 31.89 31.14 0.915 0.933 0.918 0.36 6.97

Teams faced: Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings, Predators

Lankinen continues to be the backbone of a team that struggles with puck possession. Among goalies who have played 200 minutes, he ranks fourth with a .927 save-percentage and a .962 expected save-percentage and is fifth with a 5.58 goals saved above expected. These numbers have trended down slightly from when he was topping the league in many categories, but it’s a testament to how much Lankinen was bailing out his team that he’s still ranked so high with a few less-than-elite games recently.

One area that Lankinen has seen a noticeable deterioration is with his rebound control. His rate of attempted rebounds per 60 has increased from 2.11 in his first 6 games to 4.37 in his last seven games, a sign that he’s been giving up more rebounds lately. Granted, Lankinen is seeing an increased amount of shots and the team in front could do a better job at cleaning up these rebounds, but they’ve been directed to areas of the ice that are harder to defend instead of areas like the side of the ice, which is something Lankinen was doing better earlier in the season. Every goalie goes through periods of increased rebound opportunities against, so this isn’t surprising, but it’s a trend we’ll want to watch as the season progresses.

Ian Mitchell (22)

Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
2020-21 39 15:01 0.72 -2.7 -1 -0.7 43.53% 39.02% 41.41% 54.46% 98.7

Most common partners at 5-on-5: Keith (138:39), De Haan (93:19)

Mitchell’s deployment was also impacted by Murphy’s absence, facing higher quality of competition outside of the offensive zone than before with Keith. Mitchell’s offensive zone percentage has dropped to just 44 percent in the last six games, the third lowest among defensemen. It’s obvious that he’s earning the trust of the coaching staff to play in more difficult situations as time progresses. His shot metrics have taken a hit as a result, though, as Mitchell and Keith have the second worst shot attempt percentage (39.61) and the worst goals percentage (25.00) among defensemen at 5-on-5.

In the first 10 games, Mitchell had some of the strongest offensive numbers, and the tougher usage didn’t negatively impact that trend. He had the best expected goals per 60 (0.19) and second best high-danger chance per 60 (0.42) rates among defensemen at 5-on-5 in the last nine games. His ability to jump into to the play has resulted in several scoring chances and two goals in that span.

Nikita Zadorov (25)

Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
Season Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per 60 EVO EVD WAR Shot Attempt % 5v5 Goals % 5v5 Expected Goals % 5v5 Off. Zone Start % PDO
2020-21 42 18:51 0.85 -1.8 3.6 -0.1 47.04% 53.66% 48.30% 37.42% 101.4
2019-20 64 17:46 0.69 -3.6 1.1 -0.6 50.49% 50.67% 48.54% 41.36% 100.4

Most common partners at 5-on-5: Beaudin (97:46), Murphy (64:55), De Haan (50:34)

Zadorov has been more consistent recently with a few more good games than not. His best performance of the season was against the Dallas Stars on Feb. 9: he was effective at zone-entry prevention and in-zone shot suppression which helped him have a team-best 51.85 shot attempt percentage. Zadorov was still exposed against quicker teams like Carolina, but virtually the entire team was subpar that game.

Even beyond the Dallas game, Zadorov has been making noticeable adjustments to his play. He’s still physical, but he’s not going for as many hits or checks that require multiple strides to engage. Those were the types of hits that were getting him into trouble before as they often resulted in him being out of position. Zadorov’s even-strength defense above replacement (1.1) has trended up as a result of the improved play, which is encouraging. He’s still getting primarily third pairing usages and deployment.

As stated above, Zadorov and Beaudin do have the worst shot metrics relative to the rest of the team. This is concerning, especially considering they’ve been sheltered when together. The two individually have been improving, but the sum of them together has had less than ideal results.

Offensively, Zadorov has the second best points per 60 (2.23) and third best individual expected goals per 60 (0.16) in the last 5 games among defensemen.