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Young Guns Report: Lankinen, Kurashev biggest surprises in first 10 games

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The Blackhawks are focusing on their young players this season, so how are they doing?

Detroit Red Wings v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The last few seasons have been understandably frustrating to fans as the Blackhawks faded into mediocrity while maintaining a façade of competitiveness. Despite it being obvious that the Blackhawks were attempting to retool on the fly, it was only this summer that the “R” word was finally used: rebuild.

Specifically, the Blackhawks issued a letter stating:

“We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster. We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again, and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players.”

Now, we can definitely argue whether a true rebuild can happen as long as the final four of the Cup-winning core (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook) are still around, but the fact remains that the Blackhawks have finally, explicitly stated that the focus of this season will be on the young players. This was a good thing. After all, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

So in keeping with The Plan™, we’re going to have an ongoing series evaluating the progress of the young guns on the Blackhawks team.

Notes:

  • This article was written before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
  • This series will include any player that is 25 or younger who plays at least one NHL game this season.
  • We’re going to keep it simple to start, focusing primarily on shot metric and other counting stats. Remember, these are just a starting point for analysis — not a definitive evaluation of a player, especially give the small sample size of games/minutes played so far.
  • Currently, we are not including Goals Above Replacement (GAR), Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Even-Strength Offense Goals Above Average (EVO), Even-Strength Defense Goals Above Average (EVD), Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus. We’ll add them after more games have been played since they need a reasonable sample size to be useful.
  • Currently, we are not including micro stats, such as tracking passing or zone entry. We’ll add them once they become available.

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 (36:30), Zadorov (30:34)

Boqvist has strong shot metrics so far, but much of that is due to him being deployed in the offensive zone to an extreme degree against the lowest quality of competition. It also helped that he and Nikita Zadorov were finally split up — they were the second worst defensive pairing on the team by nearly every shot metric, owning only a 45.5 share of shot attempts.

Once Boqvist was reunited with Duncan Keith, his partner for most of last season, he settled down some and his shot attempt share jumped to 56.1 percent. Boqvist only has one point at 5-on-5, but he has the second highest points per 60 rate among defensemen at 0.83. Both his individual shot and expected goal rate were trending up before his absence. Finding the right partner and deployment for Boqvist is likely key for his development at the NHL level.

Despite the rough start at 5-on-5, Boqvist has been making an impact on the Blackhawks power play, as documented in this article.

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 (15:27)

Beaudin hasn’t played enough minutes to evaluate shot metric stats in a meaningful way, but he has been noticeable in the small sample. He’s been assertive with and without the puck, calm in defensive situations, and has had good positioning.

Beaudin currently leads defensemen on the team in takeaways per 60 (2.75) at 5-on-5, and while this is one of the most subjective stats, it illustrates his active stick and strong on-ice awareness.

Beaudin has no points in two games and below-average shot metrics results, but look for those numbers to improve if he’s given more playing time.

Alex DeBrincat (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 52 20:32 3.15 11.1 -2.2 2.1 45.74% 55.00% 43.94% 58.95% 103.6
2019-20 70 17:29 2.2 -0.6 0.3 0.8 48.34% 49.30% 47.05% 66.82 94.4

Most common line mate(s) at 5-on-5: Kane (72:25), Suter (55:15)

Debrincat is shooting at a lower rate than last season, but his quality of shot at 5-on-5 is at a career best (3.65 high-danger shots per 60). The lower shot rate is likely due to his increase in time on ice, but it’s a trend we’ll want to follow as the season progress. If Debrincat can keep the higher shot quality while generating a higher quantity of shots, it could be a breakout season — again — for the winger.

Also trending favorably is Debrincat’s power-play performance as he has four points (2 G, 2 A) on the power play and shooting at a career high rate of 12.14 shots per 60.

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: Keith (33:47)

Unlike many of the young defensemen, Carlsson hasn’t been as sheltered. He’s still getting a majority of starts in the offensive zone, but he’s also facing some of the highest quality of competition among defenders. As a result, the shot metrics with him on the ice have been below average for the team.

However, Carlsson is moving the puck well and has a steady approach in his own end, so hopefully his shot metric possession trends positively as the season progresses. Despite having zero points in four games, he does have the second highest individual expected goals per 60 among defensemen on the team at 0.19 (during 5-on-5 play).

Brandon Hagel (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 52 13:59 1.98 3.9 0.3 1 46.21% 41.51% 43.33% 42.42% 98.6

Most common linemate(s) at 5-on-5: Kampf (52:55), Carpenter (50:40)

Hagel has spent most of his time in a checking line role, deployed primarily in the defensive zone against mid-quality competition. Hagel has only one point in seven games, but he’s excelled in terms of shot metric possession, ranking in the the top two of every statistical category among Blackhawks forwards. Much of that is due to Hagel being one of the most successful players in transition.

Hagel has been relentless on the forecheck, effective at winning board battles, and consistent at forcing turnovers. Hagel has the second best takeaway rate among forwards with 3.03 takeaways per 60 at 5-on-5. There is some subjectivity when it comes to takeaways numbers, but that’s still impressive for a rookie.

Kirby Dach (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 18 18:34 1.79 2.1 -0.7 0.1 43.85% 40.74% 40.06% 54.90% 99.2
2019-20 64 14:15 1.51 2.3 0.9 0.8 48.45% 53.23% 46.81% 64.20% 100.4

Most common linemates at 5-on-5: Kampf (32:27), Carpenter (23:34)

Highmore has also been used as a checking line winger, taking on mid-quality competition while deployed predominately away from the offensive zone. His shot metric possession is strong, though the expected goals share with him on the ice is below-average. This is likely due to him the lowest percentage of offensive zone starts on the team, but his individual shot attempts per 60 (15.09) at 5-on-5 is the second highest on the team.

Although Highmore seemed to be somewhat overshadowed by Hagel, he continued to prove how he can be valuable in a lower-line role: smart positioning, responsibility with and without the puck, and effective forechecking.

Reese Johnson (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 3 8:25 0 -0.1 0.1 0 50.00% 0.00% 48.96% 50.00% 94.7

Most common linemates at 5-on-5: Highmore (10:06), Kampf (9:00)

Johnson has only played one game with the Blackhawks, but he was noticeable in that game: relentless on the forecheck, good defensive awareness, and had a team-high seven hits. It’s unlikely Johnson will stay with the Blackhawks for long but the lower-line forward had a solid NHL-debut.

Dominik Kubalik (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 56 15:31 2.62 3.9 0.3 1 46.15% 50.00% 47.27% 52.66% 101
2019-20 68 14:22 1.07 11.1 -1.1 1.8 50.40% 42.86% 50.56 51.98% 100.8

Most common linemates at 5-on-5: Strome (91:09), Kurashev (75:40)

As a team, the Blackhawks aren’t scoring at 5-on-5 consistently and Kubalik is no exception: he has no goals and only one assist through ten games. But his 5-on-5- shots per 60 (9.59) and expected goals per 60 (0.87) are higher than last season, suggesting that the goals are likely to come. His shot attempt and shots on goal percentages are mediocre despite his line’s early fanfare, but his expected goals percentage is strong.

Thanks to Debrincat’s absence, Kubalik got a longer look with the top unit of the power play and he’s made the most of it — he has 5 points (2 G, 3 A) and leads in points per 60 (16.16), shots per 60 (29.08), and expected goals per 60 (3) on the man-advantage.

Philipp Kurashev (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 54 13:04 1.36 0.2 -0.9 -0.2 46.03% 42.86% 41.31% 59.24% 99.8

Most common linemates at 5-on-5: Kubalik (75:40), Strome (66:16)

Outside of Kevin Lankinen in net, Kurashev has been the most pleasant surprise for the young players. Not only did he make the jump to the NHL sooner than expected, but he’s exceeded expectation so far.

Kurashev’s high hockey sense has been on full display at both ends of the ice, creating offensive chances out of nothing and being relentless with his backchecking. His ability to get the puck through the neutral zone has been key to his success at driving play. Kurashev has four points (3 G, 1 A) in nine games, and his points per 60 at 5-on-5 is second only to Kane.

If there is one area Kurashev needs to work on, it’s shooting more. His individual shot attempts per 60 rate (7.87) and expected goals (0.58) at 5-on-5 are in the bottom half among forwards.

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: Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators

Lankinen started the season as the third-string goalie, but quickly raced ahead of his counterparts once given the opportunity and has since gone 3-1-2 in six games. It’s too early to crown a winner to the goalie competition, but Lankinen is making a strong case with his calm, controlled positional style and early results.

Lankinen is not only one of the best for the Blackhawks so far, he’s also statistically been a top goaltender in the league. Among goalies who have played at least 200 minutes, Lankinen is ranked first in save percentage during 5-on-5 play (.957) and overall (.937) as well as goals saved above average 5-on-5 (5.65) and in all situations (6.24).

The team in front of Lankinen has helped by keeping high-danger shots against he’s faced about league average, an improvement over last season, but he’s kept games close when needed and seems to come up with timely saves.

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: De Haan (79:49), Zadorov (26:45)

Mitchell is off to a solid start to the season, never looking out of place in the NHL, and showcasing his excellent skating and positioning. While Mitchell has faced the second lowest quality of competition among defensemen, this has been trending up as more games have been played.

Mitchell has been more assertive with the puck in the last few games, jumping into a play and being active in through the neutral and offensive zones. This has led to him having the second best high-danger chances per 60 (0.46) and third best scoring chances per 60 (2.74) rates among defensemen despite not being deployed often with the more offensive top two lines. Mitchell only has one point in ten games so far, but he was very close to scoring his first NHL goal against the Blue Jackets on Sunday.

Dylan Strome (24)

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 40 15:30 1.64 -0.2 0.2 0 46.10% 37.21% 48.69% 58.12% 96.6
2019-20 58 15:56 2.47 5.2 -0.8 0.8 48.80% 47.14% 57.14% 64.91% 103

Most common linemates at 5-on-5: Kubalik (91:09), Kurashev (66:16)

Despite his mediocre shot metrics, Strome has been consistently one of the better forwards, playing with pace and driving play in the offensive zone. His ability to distribute the puck has been obvious, and it’s likely the main reason his expected goals percentage has remained strong even as his shot attempts percentage fluctuated. Like most of the team, Strome is struggling to produce at 5-on-5 despite a better rate of shots and a similar rate of expected goals as compared to last season. It’s also worth noting that Strome has been on the ice for the fewest high-danger chances per 60 minutes (7.05) among forwards, a far cry from his numbers last season.

Like Debrincat, Strome’s performance with the man-advantage has been part of the team’s early power play success. Out of the seven forwards with at least eight minutes on the power play, Strome ranks third for goals per 60 (5.03), third for expected goals per 60 (1.84), and second for primary assist per 60 (3.35). Five of Strome six points (3G, 3A) have come on the power play.

Pius Suter (24)

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 55 16:20 1.8 4.6 0.4 1.1 47.14% 46.58% 47.78% 63.83% 99.5

Most common linemates at 5-on-5: Kane (83:13), Debrincat (55:15), Janmark (30:28)

Unlike most rookies under Colliton, Suter was immediately thrust into a top-line role, so although he’s getting a large offense zone start share, he’s also been facing the highest quality of competition among forwards not named Kane. The results have been mixed — his shot attempt and expected goals percentages aren’t great, but Suter has also been one of the handful of players to produce at 5-on-5 this season, with the second best goals per 60 (1.34) and fifth best points per 60 (1.34). He has five points (4 G, 1 A) in 10 games and only one of those points has come on the power play.

Suter was moved to wing against the Blue Jackets on Sunday, and it immediately resulted in a goal, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll be even more productive as a winger. His breakout season in the Swiss National League came after he switched to predominantly playing wing. On top of that, the defensive responsibilities seem more suited to his capabilities, especially as he’s adapting to North American ice.

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: Murphy (62:25), Boqvist (30:24), Mitchell (26:45)

Zadorov has been exactly as advertised - a big-bodied, physical defensemen who is an average skater and inconsistent in his own zone. The Blackhawks could definitely use a defensemen who brings physicality, but only if they are willing to play the body smartly. Instead, Zadorov is too often throwing his body around recklessly, ending up out of position or having no impact on puck recovery.

On the bright side, after being paired with Connor Murphy, the good games for Zadorov have been slightly more frequent, and his shot metric stats definitely took a turn for the positive. Granted, Zadorov’s quality of competition is still the third lowest among defensemen, and it’s still very frustrating to watch him, but we just have to hope that Zadorov will be more stable as he continues to adapt to a new system with a partner that can cover for his overzealous mistakes.