Second City Hockey’s 2021-22 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2021. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.
The Blackhawks have not been quiet about their optimism regarding Riley Stillman.
Originally a fourth-round pick (114th overall) of the Panthers in the 2016 Draft, Stillman came to Chicago as part of the six-piece trade that sent Lucas Carlsson and Lucas Wallmark to the southeast while bringing Stillman to Chicago along with Henrik Borgstrom and Brett Connolly.
Stillman had turned 23 one month prior to that trade and was seeing paltry playing time in Florida, an average of just 10:43 in the eight games he played. That ice time shot up with the Blackhawks, as Stillman averaged 18:13 in his baker’s dozen of games in Chicago. Before the 2021 season had ended, Chicago offered Stillman a three-year contract extension that will keep him in Chicago until 2024. The comments from Stan Bowman reinforced the team’s faith in Stillman:
"He is growing into an excellent all-around defenseman and that continued development is something we look forward to seeing firsthand."— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) April 25, 2021
–#Blackhawks President of Hockey Ops and GM Stan Bowman on Riley Stillman's contract extension. pic.twitter.com/w6VHvmL9gB
A 13-game sample at the end of a pandemic-shortened season is not an ideal sample for player evaluation, but Stillman did have some bright spots. Here are a few of those, as LBR detailed in the final installment of the “Young Guns” series from last season:
He continued to be physical in a mostly meaningful way — such as disrupting the other team’s cycle and/or helping create turnovers — but he did occasionally take himself out of the play at inopportune times. The good news is that those typically happened earlier in the sample, so hopefully it’s more of a “finding his groove” situation that he’ll be more consistent at as he gains experience. His hits per 60 rate (9.37) was second among Chicago’s blue-liners, trailing only Zadorov.
Surprisingly, Stillman also contributed well to shot generation. His 5.32 shots per 60 and 0.76 rebounds created per 60 were best and second best, respectively, among Blackhawks defensemen. As a result, his even-strength offense above replacement (2.2) was the No.2 mark among Chicago’s defensemen. Some of this is due to his smaller sample but it’s an interesting note, considering that Stillman was primarily deployed in the defensive zone. It may not translate into offense but could help with shot possession and cycling opportunities, two things the Blackhawks lacked at the team-level.
A relatively low cap hit makes the Stillman contract a low-risk investment, even if it’s for multiple seasons. And with Stillman having just 56 NHL games under his belt, the potential for further development remains a possibility. Should Stillman’s ceiling remain at its current location of a third-pairing defenseman, a cap hit of $1.35 million isn’t going to send the Blackhawks spiraling into salary cap hell.
Consider Stillman one of the more intriguing players to watch with the 2021-22 season rapidly approaching.