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Young Guns Report: Lankinen rebounds among Blackhawks’ developing defensemen, goalies

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The young netminder returned to form after a slump during the month of March.

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Despite still fighting for a position in the playoffs, it was good to see nothing crazy was done during the NHL trade deadline to derail The Plan™ for this season: commitment to developing young players and rebuilding the roster. Because of this, the Blackhawks defense has remained fairly untouched as an eye was kept on both being competitive now while maintaining for the future. Only Lucas Carlsson was traded, but he wasn’t one of the top touted defensive players or prospects, and another prospective hopeful was added in Riley Stillman.

And while it’s disappointing that two of the young promising defenders — Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin — were demoted during this span, there was still plenty of progress with the other defenders.

Notes:

  • This series will include any player that is 25 or younger who plays at least one NHL game this season (so Stillman this round) and/or three games since the last article (but no Mitchell, Beaudin).
  • Other articles in the series with Forward/Defense/Goalie 1-10, Forwards 10-19, Defense / Goalies 10-19, Forwards 20-32, Defense / Goalies 20-32
  • This sample size is 11 games due to scheduling.
  • 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 (152:36), Keith (194:54)

Boqvist is still a work in progress, but as the season has progressed, proving why he was a top-10 draft selection.

Boqvist has come down offensively in the last 11 games, but scoring has been an issue across the Blackhawks lineup recently. At 5-on-5, Boqvist was still first in individual scoring chances per 60 (2.88) and third in points per 60 (0.82) rates among defensemen in the last 10 games and he still leads the team in those categories for the season as well in all situations. He also drew the most penalties (2.06), primarily because Boqvist has been pushing pace excellently. All of these are reasons why Boqvist has the best expected goals percentage (53.48) over the last 11 games.

In terms of passing and transition, Boqvist is also near the top of the class — though caveat his sample is smaller. He has the highest number of secondary and tertiary shot assists per 60 (5.62) and is second in average shot setups per 60 (3.42) behind only Keith. Because Boqvist starts nearly 65 percent of the time in the offensive zone, he doesn’t attempt zone exits as much as others, but when he does exit the defensive zone, he’s the most successful among defenders at 81.2 percent. Boqvist is also one of the best neural zone passers in transition as well, with his NZ passes contributing to a zone entry 84.3 percent of the time.

Boqvist does need to shoot more — he’s seventh in individual shot attempts (7.52) at 5-on-5 — which is why his even-strength offense isn’t as high as it could be despite otherwise strong play. It’d also be great to see Boqvist get more time on the penalty kill so that he can hone his positioning and pass suppression kills.

However you look at it, though, Boqvist is becoming a more effective and well-rounded player. Hopefully, the concussion he suffered in Monday’s game against the Blue Jackets won’t hamper the progress he’s made.

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: de Haan (64:28)

After Mitchell and Beaudin were both demoted to the taxi squad and later the AHL, Kalynuk was finally given an opportunity to play in a consistent manner and hasn’t looked out of place. As with any new player, there are going to be learning curves — they have to learn what they can and cannot do against NHL competition — and Kalynuk was no exception. But the positives have outweighed the negatives so far.

With the caveat in place of a small sample size, Kalynuk’s numbers are skewed in comparison to other defenders, but it’s still indicative of his strong play so far — especially on offense. Kalynuk is second only to Boqvist in terms of points per 60 (1.56) in all situations, and he has the highest individual point percentage (60) among defensemen, which indicates how often a player earns a point when his team scores a goal.

There’s unfortunately not enough micro stat tracking, but Kalynuk has been both an efficient passer and good in transition. The biggest area of concern for him has been on zone exits, where he’s made quite a few erroneous passes up the middle that led to turnovers, but that also appears to be an issue with a few other defenders on the Blackhawks. Kalynuk has sound defensive positioning and an active stick for breakups, but he’s still learning to read defensive plays at NHL speed which can lead to him being burned by opposing players — though luckily, his speed has often bailed him out as well.

Given enough time, Kalynuk has shown enough raw skill and intelligence that he’ll work out these kinks as he gains experience.

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 5, Panthers x 5, Lightning x 3, Blue Jackets x 7, Stars x 4, Red Wings x 4, Predators x 3

It’s clear now that Lankinen is seen as the No. 1 goalie as he’s started 10 of the last 11 games. After an expected regression, Lankinen is back to putting up strong — although no longer Vezina-worthy — numbers in that span. His save percentage at 5-on-5 was excellent again at .929 and above average in all-situations at .917. There’s still work to be done on the penalty kill, however, as Lankinen has a minus-0.27 goals saved above average while Chicago is shorthanded. The penalty kill in front of him actually got worse since the last article in this series — he went from about 50 shots per 60 minutes to 75 shots — but being negative in GSAA when down a man isn’t ideal.

With his improved play, Lankinen moved back up to eighth among goalies who’ve played at least 500 minutes in the goals saved above expected category at 6.72 GSAx. He’s also third in goals saved above average with 11.27 in the same group of goalies — trailing only definitive-Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy and Blackhawks killer Juuse Saros.

Overall, it’s great to see Lankinen rebound after his slump in March. His workload is still one of the heaviest in the league — expected goals against are second only to Connor Hellebuyck — and while he’s not at near-perfect as he was to start, Lankinen is showing consistency that could indicate true sticking power in the NHL. Expect that Lankinen will start more often than not down the stretch as the Blackhawks chase the playoffs.

Riley Stillman (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 13 18:13 0.25 2.2 0.3 0.5 45.87% 55% 48.16% 41.30% 103
2019-20 34 19:07 0.41 -2.8 0.1 -0.4 48.62% 48% 46.82% 39.84% 99.7

Most common partners at 5-on-5: Murphy (13:30)

As always, one-game samples are really too small to evaluate meaningfully, and it’s especially difficult in this case considering the Blackhawks were down to five defensemen in that one game. However, despite the unusual situation for a new young player, we can at least touch on some observations from the game.

Stillman was advertised as a good-skating, physical defenseman who is still a bit of a project at 23, and that’s how he looked in the game. He had some gap control issues early on, engaged overly physical on a few plays and took himself out of coverage, and his timing for jumping into the play was off. However, he did settle down as the game progressed, flashed some raw skills, and made some heads-up plays at both ends of the ice.

Whether or not that can translate into a useful, consistent NHL player is still to be determined, but we’ll likely get to see more of Stillman with the unfortunate injury to Boqvist.

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 (338:01), Beaudin (109:36)

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Zadorov was healthy scratched Monday night against the Blue Jackets as his play has tempered off recently. Zadorov saw both his on-ice shot attempt share (45.60 percent) and expected goals share (45.80 percent) drop significantly from his season average. Although that is influenced by who he is on the ice with, Zadorov had been making significant contributions to producing and preventing shots, but that changed in his last 10 games as well: his shot rate per 60 (7.67) dropped to sixth and his shot attempt per 60 against rate (57.73) was third worst among defensemen.

In the defensive zone, Zadorov continued to struggle with zone exits and his zone entry fail rate (7.11 per 60) is now the worst on the team while his zone exit with possession (21%) remains at the bottom as well. He had the second most giveaways (2.67 per 60) in the last 10 games, many of which were on zone exit attempts. Again, it’s important to note that the most of the defenseman aren’t good at exiting the defensive zone, but Zadorov had more issues than most recently. Although he’s been better in terms of chasing hits, Zadorov has been taking too many unnecessary penalties as he led the team with seven.

Luckily for Zadorov, he received an absurdly high save percentage (.978) at 5-on-5 — the highest among defensemen — and his PDO was nearly 103 in that span. If that regresses even a little without improvement to his play, it could get ugly. As a result of this recent play, Zadorov’s wins above replacement (-0.2) is now third worst for defensemen.

Inconsistency in play has plagued Zadorov his entire career, and, since he turns 26 on Friday with half a decade of NHL experience, age isn’t as much as factor: he needs to have his play level-out more. The good news is that, prior to this batch of games, Zadorov was playing arguably his best as a Blackhawk. The hope has to be that this was just a temporary slump and that the previous play is closer to Zadorov’s new normal.