clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Young Guns Report: Final progress check for Blackhawks’ developing forwards

New, comments

A look at where the young forwards are statistically at the end of the season.

Chicago Blackhawks v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images

The playoffs would have been great for this young group of Blackhawks forwards to experience, but the regular season was, at least, partially a success because we were able to evaluate the development of several key young forwards. The Plan™ wasn’t without bumps as we quibbled over playing time and player usage, but the Blackhawks still rotated in more rookies and forwards 25 and younger than almost any other team in the league, with several rising to the challenge. Let’s take a final look at the progress these young gun forwards made this season:

Notes:

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 (136:43), Kane (80:21), Strome (53:22)

This season wasn’t what we wanted for Dach: he missed a majority of it while recovering from wrist surgery and hampered by lingering issues with said wrist. Unfortunately, those issues impacted his play on the ice, especially as the games progressed. In his final nine games, Dach managed a respectable five points (1 G, 4 A) in all situations, but he was bottom five in most offensive categories at 5-on-5: points per 60 (1.71), shots per 60 (2.85), scoring chances per 60 (6.85), and individual expected goals per 60 (0.36). These are all down from his first 11 games back where he was top-six in most of these categories, excluding per shot volume, which further indicated that the lingering wrist issues were the likely culprit.

There’s still a lack of tracking stats data for Dach, but his issues with his wrist might have extended to this area as well. There was obvious rust in his first 11 games back in terms of passing in the offensive and neutral zones, but he was more successful than not. However, in the last nine games, there were more disconnected and bobbled passes than Dach is prone to do. He still has a high rate of success in terms of controlled exits and entries when he would carry the puck and his takeaway rate (2.91) was third best among Blackhawks forwards, but passing in transition was definitely more of an issue and he attempted it less as a result.

The good news is that Dach gave high effort every game, especially on the defensive side of the puck, so the will is there even if his body is still recovering. Not an ideal situation for Dach by any means, but also not necessarily something to worry about considering his age and the flash we saw last season in the playoffs.

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 (553:03), Suter (379:33), Dach (136:43)

The tale of this season has been DeBrincat and Kane carrying the Blackhawks offensively in a lot of ways. Over the last 13 games, though, DeBrincat took the lead with 15 points (11 G, 4 A) in 13 games compared to Kane’s 12. DeBrincat improved his points per 60 from 2.62 to 3.37 and his goals per 60 from 1.98 to 2.47 since his last tracked sample, both of which led the team in that span and marked the first time he’s topped Kane all season in the former category. His 5-on-5 points per 60 rate (2.68) and goals per 60 (2.01) rate were also up over last time (2.12 and 1.02 respectfully). Because of this late offensive push, DeBrincat had the best even-strength offense above replacement (11.1) on the team for the season, beating out Kane (8.2).

In terms of micro tracking stats, the story remains the same with DeBrincat getting top marks in practically everything. His rush shots per 60 (13.37) is slightly down from when we last checked in but is still the best on the team, and he actually improved in his cycle shots per 60 rate (9.2). The Blackhawks play off the rush a lot in general but it’s often wasted offense, meaning those rushes don’t result in enough shots and/or chances. DeBrincat is obviously an except as he’s one of only three Blackhawks forwards — the other being Kane and Hagel — that were above league average in shots off the rush. On the other hand, the were the worst team in the league in terms of generating shots off the cycle, but DeBrincat was an exception — along with Kane, Hagel, and Strome — in that he had above league average shots off the forecheck cycle.

DeBrincat dropped to third behind Strome and Suter in high danger passes per 60 (1.1), but passed Kane in carry-in percentage (65) and maintained the best controlled zone entries per 60 rate (18.72), both of which are some of the best transition numbers in the league. His zone entries also led to the most shot contributions (26.7 per 60) on the team. He was also top three among Blackhawks forwards in zone exit success percentages (53) while attempting the most (15.71 per 60). It’s clear that while the Blackhawks had trouble as a team with meaningful transition and zone time, DeBrincat excelled.

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.

In the end, this was an amazing season for DeBrincat on both ends of the ice. Offensively, he had 56 points in 54 games, including 32 goals — just below a 50-goal pace in a regular 82-game season. He was solid defensively as well, even playing on the penalty kill towards the end of the season. It’s exciting to see what the next steps are for this young star in the making.

MacKenzie Entwistle (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 5 9:49 2.44 0.2 -0.8 -0.1 30.68% 66.67% 30.05% 50.00% 107.9

Most common linemate(s) at 5-on-5: Hardman (29:37), Hinostroza (12:46)

As with any small sample, it’s impossible to draw any significant statistical evaluations, but we can discuss some observations of his play in that span.

Entwistle played as advertised for the most part: a defensively responsible forward who plays smart with and without the puck. He was generally calm in most situations, took his time to make decisions when in the defensive zone, and typically made the least risky play. However, there was one area that was better than expected: although Entwistle has been working on his skating over the years, his speed and ability to transition was surprising to even those who watched him often with Rockford. His sample is obviously too small for regular transition micro stats, but the NHL stats have him with the best rush per 60 rate (1.39) on the team over the last sample size. That is obviously skewed by his low minutes and lack of games, but it illustrates that Entwistle was willing and able to carry the puck in well and is definitely something to watch for in the future. If his improvement in skating stays consistent, Entwistle could potentially be more of a third-line player rather than a fourth-line defensive specialist.

Adam Gaudette (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 7 12:12 2.81 0.8 -1.1 0 46.29% 40.00% 40.95% 50.00% 97.8
2019-20 59 12:23 2.71 2.1 -0.5 0.8 46.40% 46.55% 46.15% 56.77% 101.3

Most common linemate(s) at 5-on-5: Strome (36:31), Kane (29:37), Kubalik (21:17)

Like Entwistle, Gaudette didn’t play enough for his stats with the Blackhawks to have much meaning, so we’ll have to rely primarily on observations and reflect on his stats from prior seasons

Overall, Gaudette flashed some of the skill that made him an impressive college player: decent playmaking, willingness to go to the front of the net, and above average skating. His points per 60 at 5-on-5 (2.27 ) was, respectfully, top-nine among Blackhawks forwards over the last sample while his point per 60 in all situations (2.81) was fourth best. The latter is thanks almost entirely to secondary assists on the power play (12.68 per 60). That’s not quite as impressive as the top-tier of contributors but points are points. His shot rates were all slightly above average for the team, which is fairly in line with his last season in Vancouver when he was in the 53rd percentile for forwards in the league. He also seemed to transition well, which also lines up with the previous season where he was in the 56th percentile for forwards in the league.

On the defensive side of things, Gaudette struggled a bit: his positioning and reactions to coverage weren’t great. Some of that is obviously due to being on a new team and system, but it’s also something that’s plagued him throughout his career and he’s never had a positive even-strength defense above replacement. Still, if Gaudette can maintain offense consistently, there can be ways to optimize his role on any team.

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 (276:40), Kubalik (242:25), Carpenter (221:43), Suter (103:10), Kane (100:45)

It’s no longer surprising that Hagel is consistently one of the top performers among Chicago’s young guns.

At 5-on-5, Hagel was top-five in points per 60 (2.34), goals per 60 (0.78), primary assists per 60 (1.17) and shots per 60 (7.02) among Blackhawks forwards. He needs to increase his shot quality, as he was tied for eighth in expected goals per 60 (0.5), but he continued to be great off the rush (0.39 attempts per 60). In fact, Hagel is one of only three Blackhawks forwards — the others being DeBrincat and Kane — that was above league average in rush shots in transition (8.27 per 60). He also moved up to a second-place tie with Strome at generating shots per 60 off the forecheck (8.59) — just behind DeBrincat and slightly ahead of Kane.

Some of his transition numbers have dipped a little but that’s likely due to his ice time increasing rather than any change in his behavior or effectiveness. He’s still top-five among Blackhawks forwards in most transition stats: third in entries per 60 (21.24), fifth in carries per 60 (9.86), fifth in zone exits per 60 (11.32) and with the second best success share (54 percent). He was also third in shot contributions per 60 after zone entry (21.34). Hagel was already statistically the best forechecker on the team but he actually improved his rate of puck recovery from dump-ins, going from 5.85 to 6.68 per 60, which moved him into the top 15 in the league. So whether it’s carrying the puck or fetching it, Hagel was strong in transition for the Blackhawks.

As mentioned in the last article, the main area Hagel needs to work on is his shot. His shooting percentage did increase from 8.96 to 9.89 over the course of the season but his shot totals dropped some so the result was a net negative in projected goals. Hagel needs to figure out how to keep his shot volume high while improving his shot quality to become a better two-way player.

Mike Hardman (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 8 10:59 2.05 0.9 -1.2 0 35.71% 50.00% 35.12% 52.63% 105.6

Most common linemates at 5-on-5: Kampf (43:06), Connolly (24:33)

You’re probably tired of reading this, but Hardman’s sample is also too small to really get much meaningful information from it. Still, let’s highlight some of his on-ice behaviors and skills that could potentially translate into something for the future.

Hardman is a bigger forward who likes to play a physical, defense-first type of game and that was obvious as he had the highest rate of hits per 60 (25.94) and in blocked shots per 60 (4.1) among Blackhawks forwards in this sample of games. While some of Hardman’s hits were big, he didn’t often go for power so much as efficiency with his hitting, often focusing on opportune moment to dislodge pucks from opposing players in useful ways. He also showed a willingness to crash the net by having the fourth best high-danger chance per 60 rate (3.41) for Blackhawks forwards over the last 13 games. And while offense is not his calling, he had a solid three points (1 G, 2 A) in his eighth games,

Smart hitting combined with his strong forechecking, solid skating, and at least some offensive ability would make Hardman ideal on a checking line role, something the Blackhawks need to deploy more in the future to free up the more offensively skewed players. We’ll have to wait to see if those trends can continue during a larger sample, but Hardman showed some promise in potentially becoming a useful player.

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: Hagel (242:25), Strome (214:19), Kurashev (213:16), Kampf (177:55)

Despite having an overall lower quality of teammate this season due to Toews’ absence, Kubalik managed to put up the same points per game mark (0.68) and prove he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. The only other young player who was better overall offensively was DeBrincat, who spent much of the season playing opposite Kane.

As for this latest sample of games, his points per 60 went down slightly from 2.66 to 2.52, but that was still top-six for that span. At 5-on-5, he improved his shots per 60 rate of 9.2 to 10.2 and his scoring chance rate of 8.10 to 9.82, though his high-danger chances per 60 decreased from 4.6 to 3.78. Despite a slip in his quality of chances, the increase in volume helped push Kubalik’s individual expected goals at 5-on-5 to 0.83 in that span, which was best on the team.

While Kubalik still isn’t being used as a transition or recovery option on his lines, he still saw improvement in those areas. At 5-on-5, he had only 17.35 entries per 60, which was the fourth lowest among Blackhawks forwards, but he had a 53 percent carry-in success share which was fifth best. Kubalik also improved his zone entries with possession per 60 from 7.86 to 9.13 and his recovered dump-ins per 60 from 1.57 to 2.13. Improvement is great, though it should be noted both those rates are just middle-of-the-pack for Blackhawks forwards and below league average. These numbers suggest that Kubalik is capable of all types of transition tasks but he’s just not being asked to do them much.

Overall, Kubalik took steps to become a more well-rounded player this season even without playing with top-six quality players regularly. Hopefully next season we’ll be able to see Kubalik’s improvement result in even more success.

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 (213:16), Soderberg (176:13), Janmark (167:18), Strome (101:58)

Kurashev was one of the forwards who was displaced most often throughout the season. While his last 12 games were no different, Kurashev still gave high-effort no matter who his linemates were. Since his last tracked games sample, his shot attempts per 60 rate increased from 8.27 to 10 and his expected goals per 60 rate increased from 0.46 to 0.58, both of which were top-nine in that span. Neither of those numbers are as good as some of his early shot generation stats, but finishing on a positive trend is always better than not. One area of shot contributions that hasn’t wavered is on at second-chance opportunities, with Kurashev, by far, generating the most chances off a rebound (4.18 per 60).

In transition and defensively, Kurashev improved as the season progressed. At 5-on-5 among Blackhawks forwards, he was top-five in entries per 60 (19.08), top-six in carry-in percentage (52 percent), top-four in rush shots per 60 (6.91), and the best at zone exits with possession (68 percent). One caveat for the latter number is that he attempted the second least zone exits (9.07 per 60), but his success rate is still impressive and it’d be interesting to see if it could stay well above league average with a higher workload. Kurashev has always been a solid defensive player, but he was one of the best Blackhawks forwards at pass break-ups and coverage to end the season.

It’s important to remember that Kurashev was the second youngest forward to lace up his skates for the Blackhawks this season, so inconsistency can be expected but that could have been mitigated with more stable line combinations. The motto of play Kurashev more minutes was finally realized in his last 12 games as he hit 12:58 at 5-on-5 — up from the less than 10 minutes of his last tracked sample — and hopefully that’s a trend we’ll see in future seasons.

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 (214:19), Kurashev (101:58), Janmark (120:49)

There’s no arguing that in terms of results, Strome had a disappointing season. He taillied only 17 points (9 G, 8 A) in 40 games this season, which dropped him to tenth for Blackhawks forwards in points per games (0.43). Like with Kurashev, some of Strome’s issues stemmed from inconsistent linemates — which were often of lower quality than in the past — and shifting positions throughout the season. Still, the dip in offensive output is concerning, though hopefully it’s an outlier on his career.

The good news is that Strome was fairly consistent in terms of shot quantity and quality since his last tracked game sample. During 5-on-5 play in his last nine game, Strome had the best points per 60 (3.00) and assists per 60 (2.4) rates; fourth best scoring chances per 60 rate (7.13); and sixth best shots per 60 (6.61), rebounds created per 60 (0.6), and expected goals per 60 (0.7) rates for Blackhawks forwards. These are just slightly down from his last sample but about where he was last season. He was also one of only four players with an individual points percentage of 100 — meaning he contributed to all five goals scored with him on the ice — along with Kubalik (6 goals), Entwistle (2 goals), and Kampf (2 goals).

To note, his PDO was already one of the lowest on the team, but it bottomed out over the last nine games at 92.2 thanks to being on the ice for the worst save percentage (.828) among his teammates. A rough start and bad luck to finish is not a winning combination for any player.

Strome was also one of the only Blackhawks forwards that could generate shots off the cycle (8.59 per 60) — tied with Hagel for second best — and had the second best rate of puck recovery following a dump-in (3.78 per 60), though that was pretty distant to Hagel. In transition, Strome was top-six among Blackhawks forward in carry-in percentage (52) as well as entries per 60 (18.55), both above league average. He still wasn’t getting the number of assists he should have based on his passing quality, as he leads the team in high-danger passes that result in shots per 60 (2.24), was second in pass completion percentage in the offensive zone (63), and top-three in shots assists (8.33 per 60).

In the end, Strome didn’t have a good season, but he was at least improving at the end and his micro stats suggest he could get back to his 45-50 point range with the right linemates. Whether that’s with the Blackhawks going forward is unknown.

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 (475:43), DeBrincat (379:33), Janmark (117:28), Hagel (103:10)

Unlike most young players under Jeremy Colliton, Suter had very consistent linemates and usage throughout the season, and that confidence was warranted as Suter was one of the most consistent players on the Blackhawks (excluding one short period in the middle of the season).

In his last 12 games, Suter improved his points per 60 from 2.29 to 2.44, although his tank dropped him from the top of the class to eighth best among Blackhawks forwards. His expected goals dropped from 1.19 to 0.92, but that was still good for third best on the team in that span. He was also second in shots per 60 (9.14), second in high-danger chances per 60 (3.65), and shots scored off the rebound, as well as third in scoring chances per 60 (8.53). Suter finished strong in generating shot quantity and quality for the Blackhawks.

He’s still not being tasked with much when it comes to transition thanks to being on a line with DeBrincat and Kane. While still the lowest on the team, his entry attempt per 60 rate climbed again from 16.23 to 16.98, though his carry-in percentage slipped slightly from 59 to 56 percent. Suter was fourth in rush attempts per 60 (0.61), but less so in generating high-danger chances in those situations. His rate of zone exits with possession per 60 increased from 3.24 to 4.82, which was seventh best for Blackhawks forwards and right at league average. Overall, Suter seems to have the skills to be a strong transition player but didn’t have the opportunity to showcase those skills as much.

One area where Suter improved over the course of the season was passing the puck, as he moved up to the second best forward at generating high-danger shot assists (1.19 per 60) behind Strome and fourth in pass completion in the neutral zone (57 percent). As a result of his strong passing and shot stats, Suter had one of the highest percentages of shot contributions being a scoring chance (55 percent).

Ultimately, Suter has a solid rookie season offensively, which was especially impressive considering he played against top quality of competition most of the season. It’ll be interesting to see if a move to wing — a move that caused his breakout in Switzerland — could yield even better results.