Where will Jason Dickinson fit in future Blackhawks' lineups?
The forward set career highs in both points and games played.
Jason Dickinson (along with a second-round pick in the 2024 Draft) was acquired by Blackhawks' GM Kyle Davidson four days before the start of the season last October from the Vancouver Canucks. Essentially just a salary dump for the Canucks, the trade became an overwhelming win as Dickinson (a former first-round pick) tied his career high in goals (9), set new career highs in both assists (21) and points (30), while also appearing in the most games he's ever played in over a single season (78). The Hawks got a useful player and a pick in exchange for a defenseman (Riley Stillman) who looks like he may not even be NHL caliber. These are exactly the types of trades rebuilding teams need to capitalize on, so credit where it's due.
Coach Luke Richardson bounced Dickinson all over the lineup: at one point, he even centered the "top" line between Patrick Kane and Andreas Athanasiou. Dickinson killed penalties. He got time on the power play. While his possession numbers aren't great – only one of his six NHL seasons finished with a positive shot share: 50.1 percent for Dallas in 2020-21 – they're still better than where the Blackhawks finished overall as a team last season, which was 31st in a 32-team league.
Given that the Blackhawks have limited talent on the roster at the moment and will probably need to take on some bad contracts just to ensure they're above the cap floor next season, Dickinson and his $2.65 million cap hit for another season feel like a strong bet to be back.
No one should expect him to be a first or even second-line center (please, for the love of God, no). But, assuming he does return, where should he slot in to the lineup? And what kind of player is he?
Since we currently have no idea what the actual roster construction of the Hawks will look like next season, the optimistic approach is to figure out where Dickinson would fit on a league average team.
That "league average" team was created by combining center numbers from the first-place team (Boston), the 16th place team (Calgary), and the last place team (Anaheim). Here's what we've got:
- First Line Center - 24 goals, 38.3 assists, 62.3 points
- Second Line Center - 16.6 goals, 34.3 assists, 51 points
- Third Line Center - 14.6 goals, 23.6 assists, 38.3 points
- Fourth Line Center - 7 goals, 11.6 assists, 18.6 points
- Dickinson actual - 9 goals, 21 assists, 30 points
So this is simple enough, Dickinson is somewhere between a third and fourth line center – keeping in mind his point total got a significant bump from being utilized in situations he normally shouldn't be/wouldn't be playing in, like centering a line with Patrick Kane.
- First Line Center - 57.6% Corsi For, 56.93% Expected Goals For
- Second Line Center - 53.3% Corsi For, 50.63% Expected Goals For
- Third Line Center - 47.6% Corsi For, 45.96% Expected Goals For
- Fourth Line Center - 42% Corsi For, 39.93% Expected Goals For
- Dickinson actual - 42% Corsi For, 41.3% Expected Goals For
(All numbers from MoneyPuck)
The possession numbers create a different story, suggesting Dickinson is nothing more than a straight up, fourth-line pivot (which corroborates the inflated goal/assist totals from being utilized higher up the lineup).
For frame of reference: Tomas Nosek was the fourth line center for Boston, Trevor Lewis was for Calgary, and Derek Grant was for Anaheim. Not exactly household names, but that's the level of player Dickinson is.
We now know that the Blackhawks will be selecting their No. 1 center in Nashville on June 28 and Connor Bedard will absolutely be skating on their top line starting next season. They're going to have to sign/acquire at least another higher end center with offensive upside this summer – maybe a reunion with Max Domi or a re-signing of Andreas Athanasiou? – assuming they're going to keep Lukas Reichel on the wing. That would leave Dickinson to center the third or fourth line. You could live with similar production on the third line (and, FWIW, MoneyPuck also says his expected goals were at 13.2 last year, meaning he scored four fewer goals than he should have), but his ideal role is a fourth-line center who can also help out on the penalty kill.
No one should carry any false notions about the Blackhawks being good next season, as they simply won't be. They will be far more interesting to watch, however. And spotting where Jason Dickinson is placed in the lineup should give us all an idea about just how competitive they may (or may not) be.