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Young Guns Report: Boqvist on the rise among Blackhawks’ developing defensemen, goalies

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The youngest defender is showing flashes of what made him a top-10 draft pick in 2018.

Detroit Red Wings v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

As the Blackhawks tumble out of a playoff position — hopefully a temporary development — it’s a good time to remember that the success of this this season isn’t based on the Blackhawks’ final position in the standings: it’s about the progress the young players make on the ice. Winning is fun and there are important lessons to be learned in victory, but the most important factor of the season is the development of the young players on the team.

Unfortunately, the last 13 games were as rough on the Blackhawks’ young defensemen they were on the team as a whole. The underlying issues with team puck possession have been occurring since the season started, but this was compounded as the quality of competition rose especially for this stretch of games.

Notes:

  • This series will include any player that is 25 or younger who plays at least one NHL game this season (so Kalynuk this round) and/or three games since the last article (but no Beaudin, Carlsson). The latter point is to try to weed out wild swings from one data set to another.
  • Other articles in the series with Forward/Defense/Goalie 1-10, Forwards 10-19, Defense / Goalies 10-19.
  • This sample size is 13 games due to scheduling — apologies for the unevenness.
  • Remember, any stats used are just a starting point for analysis and not a definitive evaluation of a player. Shot metrics are from Natural Stat Trick. Even-strength offense above replacement (EVO), even-strength defense goals above replacement (EVD), wins above replacement (WAR), goals saved above expected (xGSA) are from Evolving-Hockey, zone entry/exit data is from Corey Sznajder / @ShutdownLine.

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: De Haan (114:16), Keith (97:58)

Since returning to the lineup after missing time due to COVID, Boqvist has been playing his best professional hockey to date. Not only has he been breaking up opposing rushes regularly, he’s been pushing pace the other way and contributing to the Blackhawks offensive zone time. During the last 13 games, Boqvist has the highest rate of takeaways (1.45) and pass breakups (5.23). His defense is not without mistake — and some are still major, let’s be honest — but his improvement and effort on the back end has been promising.

Boqvist also started showing off his high offensive talent, collecting 9 points in 13 games. Switching to de Haan as his primary partner likely had a positive effect on his ability to jump into the play more, as CDH can be the more steady presence behind him. Boqvist had the highest points (2.17) and assists (1.45) per 60 rates among defensemen in that span. He also had the highest individual point percentage (57.14) in that span, which indicates how often a player earns a point when his team scores a goal. On the power play, Boqvist was at 100 percent, factoring into all four power play goals scored when he was on the ice. Not bad.

Everyone on the Blackhawks has taken a hit in terms of shot metric possession, but Boqvist saw one of the smallest dips and had the third-best shot attempt share at 49.04 percent. However, that is with Boqvist seeing the highest share of offensive zone starts on the team and typically the some of the highest quality of teammate. Still, seeing Boqvist begin to make strides defensively while contributing meaningfully in terms of offense is exactly the progress that needs to be happening at the moment.

Wyatt Kalynuk (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 21 16:16 1.58 1.8 -3.9 -0.4 43.67% 38.24% 36.09% 54.55% 98.4

Most common partner(s) at 5-on-5: Mitchell (5:37)

A one-game sample is obviously too small to evaluate, and it’s especially difficult when the player faced one of the highest quality teammates in his NHL debut. Kalynuk was fairly quiet during the game, which is to be expected considering he had just 17 shifts, but there were some flashes of the skill that he showed in college. His skating was excellent, he handled the puck well, his positioning was solid, and he stuck with his coverage correctly for most of the game. There were obvious yips, but again, not unexpected considering it was his first NHL game.

Hopefully we’ll get to see more of Kalynuk as the season progresses considering he’s the type of defender that could help in a few key trouble areas for the Hawks, such as transitioning from the defensive zone.

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 x 3, Panthers x 3, Lightning x 3, Blue Jackets x 5, Stars x 2, Red Wings x 4, Predators x 1

After putting up Vezina-worthy numbers in his first 13 games, Lankinen has come crashing back down to earth in his last eight. His save percentage at 5-on-5 is still excellent at .932 in those games, but he has a dismal .704 save percentage on the penalty kill and has a minus-1.65 goals saved above average as a result. Granted, the PK has been extra terrible in front of Lankinen of late — he seen about 50 shots per 60 minutes, which is top 10 in the league among goalies who’ve played at least 5 games in the last month — but his results aren’t ideal for any goaltender. As a result, Lankinen has dropped from a top-five goalie in goals saved above expected to 15th among those who have played at least 500 minutes with minus-1.16 GSAx.

This regression for Lankinen was expected, but it’s definitely compounded with the heavy workload he’s faced all season and especially in the last several games. The Blackhawks relied heavily on Lankinen to have a successful February, so it’s time for the team in front to carry a bit more of the load and help out so the young Finnish netminder can find his footing once again.

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 (228:28), De Haan (100:49)

As with many rookies, Mitchell seemed to hit a bit of a wall over his last 10 games and he saw his ice time dip slightly as a result. Most Blackhawks saw their shot possession fall in this span but Mitchell’s dropped off a cliff: he was last among Chicago defensemen with a 38.58 percent share of shot attempts and a 39.05 percent share of expected goals. Individually, he was also the lowest in shot attempt (4.26 per 60) and shots-on-goal rates (1.55 per 60). This is a far cry from his first 10 games, when he was one of the best in terms of individual shot metrics, including high-danger scoring chance generation.

One positive is that Mitchell has been better at defending the blue line than most others. Of the top-five defensemen, Mitchell has the second lowest carry-in against percent (60) despite having the highest target per 60 rate (25.29) at 5-on-5. The Blackhawks defensemen in general do not seem to attempt zone entry prevention, but Mitchell has some of the better results when it is tried. This was a strength of his in college, so it’s interesting to note that it’s translating to the NHL level.

Mitchell was also a healthy scratch for two games for the first time this season, but with so many young defensemen needing to get playing time, it’s not that concerning and the break may be good for him like it was for Boqvist. Mitchell also has the lowest PDO for defensemen, so there is likely to be positive regression in his future.

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 (189:34), Beaudin (109:04)

Zadorov is one of four defenders to play in all 13 games since the last article and one of the few to show improvement in terms of 5-on-5 shot metrics, as he’s improved from 45.03 percent in his first 19 games to 50.43 percent in these last 13. While his numbers are likely influenced by being on the ice with Kampf’s line — which typically drives the highest shot possession — Zadorov is contributing to those shots as well. He has the second highest shot rate per 60 (5.45) at 5-on-5 among Blackhawks defensemen, including the second highest scoring chance rate per 60 (3.63).

Chicago’s defense has struggled with zone exits all season, but it’s especially been a low point for Zadorov. He has the lowest zone exit with possession (21%), the second highest zone entry fail rate (6.99 per 60), and the highest turnover rate on zone exit attempts. This isn’t exactly ideal for a defender starts in the offensive zone as rarely as Zadorov does, but again, the entire team is struggling with zone exits.

Although Zadorov is getting bailed out by his goalies some — he was on the ice for the second highest save percentage among defensemen (.939) at 5-on-5 — he also still had the second best even-strength defense above replacement (2.5). Zadorov’s individual play is still inconsistent, and the turnovers at the blue line are concerning, but he’s not been as wildly varied from one extreme to another and his results have been decent relative to his team.