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Young Guns Report: Dach’s return a highlight among Blackhawks’ developing forwards

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The young forward had an instant impact in his long awaited return to the Blackhawks lineup.

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NHL Trade Deadline went exactly as expected: to stock-up on future assets, the Blackhawks moved the veteran forwards on one-year contracts and/or lower-line players without futures in the organization like Mattias Janmark, Carl Soderberg, and Matthew Highmore. Although we don’t see it in this iteration of the series, the forward group should see more changes in playing time and usage in accordance with The Plan™ for the season thanks to these departures. In the meantime, there is much to cover over the progress of the young forwards leading up to the TDL.

Notes:

  • This series will include any player that is 25 or younger who plays at least one NHL game this season (so Entwistle this round) and/or three games since the last article but excluding any player that was traded (Highmore).
  • 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, Defense / Goalies 33-43
  • This sample size is 11 games due to scheduling.
  • For any rankings of players, it will be out of player who have at least 50 minutes of ice time in whatever situation is being discussed. So at 5-on-5, Hinostroza would be excluded for ranking purposes, for example.
  • 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.

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: Debrincat (76:33), Kane (66:49), Strome (43:10)

Before the season even started, Dach underwent wrist surgery and was expected to be out for 4-5 months, starting The Plan™ off with a rocky start. It was almost unimaginable that almost all of a developmental season would take place without one of the Blackhawks most important young players. Luckily, Dach was able to recover ahead of his original timeline and rejoined the team with at least 20 games left in the regular season. That’s still a small sample of its own, but getting Dach back to playing NHL hockey for any significant period of time will benefit him.

In his return, Dach has looked as expected: he went about four months without a game so there is definitely some rust, but the skill and effort that makes him such a good young player was also on display. Dach already has five points (1 G, 5A) in nine games, and an impressive 1.85 points per 60 at 5-on-5, which is third best among forwards who have played at least 100 minutes. He also an 80 percent individual point percentage in that span, which indicates how often a player earns a point when his team scores a goal. Not bad. He does need to shoot more as he has the fourth lowest shots per 60 rate (5.55), but that is something he improved with over time last season. Hopefully that happens again.

There aren’t enough tracking stats for Dach yet, but his prowess in transition has been obvious in his nine games so far. Last season, he was in the 91st percentile among forwards in the league with a success rate of nearly 71 percent of controlled entries — only Kane, Toews, and DeBrincat were better on the team. He was also in the 88th percentile in attempts as he averaged 13.49 controlled entries per 60 — only Kane attempted more.

Dach’s entries so far have looked similarly successful, though he still needs to learn when he can and cannot skate through defenders — at least until he’s more physically mature — but when he does it correctly it’s beautiful to watch.

In terms of passing and defense, Dach has been solid in both areas but those two areas are where the rust is the most obvious. He’s had a few noticeable bobbles in the neutral and defensive zones when it comes to passing — including on exits — and he’s still getting back up to game speed when it comes to coverage. However, the effort is definitely there and his backchecking has been generally strong, so it seems inevitable he’ll get his sea legs in these key areas. Though, again, when Dach is on — he’s really on.

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 (488:55), Suter (338:13)

I’m not sure what more can be said about how great DeBrincat has been performing this season. He’s at the top of nearly every offensive statistical category along with Kane and he’s continuing to develop on the defensive side of the game.

After only Kane, DeBrincat was second in points with 10 (5 G, 5 A) in his last 11 games, including leading the team in goals. He also had the second best points per 60 rate of 2.62, which is is only slightly down from the 2.93 points per 60 rate in his previous 13 games. DeBrincat has had that level of consistent production through all the samples we’ve tracked, which is exactly what you want from a top-six offensive player. At 5-on-5, he was top-five in most shot categories during those 11 games: third in individual expected goals per 60 (0.71), fourth in shots per 60 (7.84), and fifth in high-danger chances per 50 (3.07). Overall for the season, DeBrincat only trailed Kane in even-strength offense above replacement (6.7).

In terms of micro tracking stats, DeBrincat is at the top of the class there as well. So far, he generates the most shots on the rush — 14.41 rush shots per 60 — and and on the forecheck/cycle — 8.90 cycle shots per 60. DeBrincat is second behind Strome in high danger passes per 60 (1.59), second only behind Kane in carry-in percentage (63.00), and has the best controlled zone entries per 60 rate (28.82) — the latter is also one of the best rates in the league. His zone entries also lead to the most shot contributions (27.63 per 60) on the team. Getting out of the defensive zone — when that’s his task — is also a breeze, as he has more zone exits with possession (11.44 per 60) than any other forward on the team. It’s safe to say that DeBrincat has taken his transition game to another level this season.

As noted in the last article in this series, the only area in which DeBrincat (and the rest of the Blackhawks) struggle with is suppression of shots, in terms of both quantity and quality. It’s something that not even DeBrincat (or Kane) can seem to influence on an individual level enough to impact team-wide shot metrics despite the otherwise stellar 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 (239:55), Kubalik (219:22)

It’s obvious why Hagel is a fan-favorite with his puck-hound tendencies and great transition play, and he continued to impress with and without the puck in the last several games. Hagel is statistically the best forechecker on the team and has the best dump-in puck-recovery rate as a result (5.85 per 60) — that’s top 25 in the league and on par with the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Aleksander Barkov. He’s top-five among Blackhawks forwards in most transition stats as well: third in entries per 60 (23.80), fourth in carries per 60 (10.86), fifth in zone exits per 60 (7.93), and third in shot contributions per 60 after zone entry (22.15).

After a slow start in terms of production, Hagel has been very consistent with his points per 60 rates over his last two samples — he had 2.09 points per 60 in his last 11 games which is on par with his 2.06 points per 60 in the 13 games prior to that. Part of this success stems from his great transition game — he’s third on the team behind DeBrincat and Kane in generating shots off the rush (10.02 per 60) — as well as his forechecking ability — he’s fourth behind DeBrincat, Kane, and surprisingly Strome in generating shots off the cycle (7.93 per 60). He’s fourth on the team in shots per 60 (7.5) and high-danger chances per 60 (7.84), and he creates the third most rebounds with his shots (0.8 per 60). These numbers all stayed consistent from his previous tracked game sample as well, which again is great to see from a young player.

Honestly, the only hole in Hagel’s skillset is the ineffectiveness of his shot so far, which has led to an apt comparison to Brandon Saad, another player who was great in transition and on the forecheck but had issues with scoring. Hagel has only a 8.96 shooting percentage, but despite this he would be on pace for about 12 goals in a normal 82-game season, so if he gets his shooting percentage up near Saad’s career average of around 11 percent, Hagel could similarly be a 20-goal scorer. More of this, please:

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 (171:21), Hagel (219:22), Kurashev (157:51), Kampf (147:213)

The other top offensive young player behind DeBrincat for the Blackhawks is obviously Kubalik, as his production continues grow as the season progresses. He’s improved from 1.64 to 2.66 points per 60 since his last tracked games sample, and still only trails Kane and DeBrincat for actual points for the season. Although his scoring chances rate slipped slightly at 5-on-5, his high-danger chances per 60 increased from 4.04 to 4.6 while his shots per 60 remained consistent at 9.2. As a result, his individual expected goals at 5-on-(5 0.7 per 60) is still top-five at and his even-strength offense above replacement (3.3) climbed higher as well.

Kubalik also continued to be one of the few forwards who is at least break-even in terms of shot attempt percentage (50.84) and expected goals percentage (50.52) over his last 11 games. Considering he’s only started about 46 percent in the offensive zone, these are generally good shot possession numbers — although the note from the last article of him not facing top-quality competition and starting primarily in the neutral zone still holds true. Kubalik is also on the ice for the third-lowest expected goals against rate (1.88), which is likely the main reason he has the best even-strength defense above replacement (1.4) among forwards.

Also holding true from the last article is Kubalik’s lack of transition use — he’s just not regularly used as the person for transition or puck-recovery on his line. For example, at 5-on-5, Kubalik has only averaged 7.86 zone entries with possession per 60, lowest on the team, and 1.57 recovered dump-ins per 60, third lowest on the team. Before with Kampf and Hagel, it was clear to see why — they are two of the best in those categories — and Kubalik was tasked with being the trigger-man off rushes, but this might change somewhat if Kubalik is paired with Hinostroza and Kurashev consistently going forward. Hinostroza is excellent in transition traditionally, but Kursahev hasn’t been used for transition as much either so it could be good for both to do more heavy lifting in that regard. Kubalik’s skating and puck-handling ability suggest he could be strong in these categories if his workload increased.

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: Janmark (157:04), Soderberg (140:27), Kubalik (106:07)

Although the team is still having issues with consistent shot metric possession, Kurashev was on the ice for some of the best numbers over the last 11 games: 55.08 percent of the shot attempt share, 54.46 percent of the shots on goal share, 52.33 percent of the scoring chances share, and 51.63 percent of the expected goals share. Those are strong numbers considering he was bottom-five in all those categories in the last sample we tracked. This is likely due to being partnered with better linemates — notably Kubalik and Hinostroza — but it also helps that he had the second highest offensive zone start percentage (63.64) in that span.

Unfortunately, Kurashev’s demotion to the lower lines for some of this span did have a negative impact on his individual shooting stats. His individual shot attempts per 60 rate is down from 11.91 to 8.27 and his expected goals per 60 rate is down from 0.62 to 0.46. Being paired more with a slumping Janmark or offensively challenged Kampf is going to impact a lot of players’ numbers, though, and they’ve already seen a positive bump with his new linemates.

Kurashev is also top-six in primary shot assists per 60 (7.72), so being with better finishers could result in more actual assists for him. He leads the team in shots off rebounds per 60 (1.78) and is third in those rebounds being high-danger scoring chances (5.57 per 60). Kurashev is one of the players that likes to go to the net, and if he would shoot more, his offense could really take off. Overall, his points per 60 (0.97) is still top-nine on the team and his even-strength offense was seventh best — top-six now that Soderberg is gone — but both could be even better with consistently higher quality linemates.

Until Dach returned, Kurashev was the youngest forward on the Blackhawks, and it’s understandable that he’d be getting lower ice time as he acclimates to the NHL. However, there’s not much reason to play Kurashev less than 10 minutes at 5-on-5 — he was at 9:50 per game over the last 11 games — with him playing in such a consistent and competent manner with and without the puck, and especially now that Janmark and Soderberg are gone. It’s definitely time to play Kurashev more minutes.

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 (171:21), Janmark (120:49), Kurashev (83:40)

Although Strome is having a down season with the Blackhawks, he has been performing much better since returning from his concussion. At 5-on-5 in his last 10 games, Strome has been on the ice for the best expected goals share (56.20 percent) among forwards — that a huge swing from his previous sample, which was below 47 percent. Some of this likely has to do with his new linemates of DeBrincat and Dach, but Strome saw personal growth in his individual shot quantity and quality. At 5-on-5 in that span, he was third in shots attempts per 60 (11.95), shots on goal per 60 (8.46), and high-danger chances per 60 (9.96) as well as first in scoring chance per 60 (9.96) and rebounds created per 60 (1.49). Considering Strome has one of the most accurate shots on the team, a higher rate of shot should hopefully lead to more goals for him.

Also being with high-end passers consistently should help:

As a result of his good play in the last 10 games, Strome’s points per 50 (1.49) was sixth best among forwards in that span, thanks primarily to him having the second best goals per 60 rate (1.49). He’s still not racking up the assists like he has in previous seasons, but that’s not because his passing has declined in quality — he leads the team in high-danger passes that result in shots per 60 (2.24) and is third in pass completion percent in the offensive zone (62). His PDO over the last 10 games was only 98.4, so more points could be coming now that he’s paired with forwards who are better shooters, like DeBrincat.

As noted in the last iteration of this series, Strome surprisingly still has the third-best even-strength defense above replacement (0.9) among forwards. It’ll be interesting to see how that changes over the rest of the season.

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 (393:46), DeBrincat (338:13)

After having a short period of fine-but-not-great performance, Suter is back to the standard he set to start the season. In his last 11 games at 5-on-5, he is tied for the most points (6) with Kane, and had a team-leading point per 60 rate (2.29). Suter also led the forwards in high danger chances per 60 (6.12) and individual expected goals per 60 (1.19) as well as having the fourth highest high-danger shot assist per 60 rate (1.24). Now, Suter did have a five-game span of no points, but that might have been due to some line juggling happening during that time, and ultimately he did factor into an impressive 100 percent of the goals that happened when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.

When it comes to transition, the story is the same as last time in that Suter isn’t tasked with it as much thanks to his primary linemates, and that seems unlikely to change if Hagel stays on the top line with Suter and Kane. Suter’s entry attempt per 60 rate did go up from 14.39 to 16.23, but that was still the second lowest on the team. And while his carry-in percentage (59) on zone entries remained excellent, Suter has been much less successful when attempting zone exits (only 45 percent successful).

Overall though, it’s good to see Suter play through his issues and come out the other side positively. Remember that he is on pace for 20-21 goals and 36-37 points in a normal 82-game season — not too shabby for a rookie playing against top quality of competition regularly.