Welcome to the latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. Each day, we will take a look at a new team and examine three of their potential breakout or bounce-back players. What are these? These are players that have the chance to make a serious difference with their teams. Whether that’s as someone who finally finds their place in the NHL, or as someone who had previously been good but has struggled as of recently. Each day we will be looking at a different team! However, today we will take a look at the potential 2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks key players.
2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks Candidates
David Kampf will be a critical player for the 2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks moving forward. His numbers on the scoresheet are unimpressive, but his impact is felt in many other ways on the ice. He is an extremely defensive forward who specializes in shutting down explosive players on the other team. For example, take the Hawks/Edmonton Oilers regular season games. The most dangerous player on the ice, Connor McDavid, was held to a total of zero points during three games played. Kampf marked McDavid the entire time they were on the ice together, taking away his time and space. McDavid only managed to get three shots on net through 90 minutes of play against the Blackhawks.
During the regular season, Kampf was second on the team in faceoff wins and win percentage, only behind faceoff master Jonathan Toews. He would take the important defensive zone draws, and win them more often than not, negating a scoring opportunity for the other team. In these past playoffs, Kampf had an impressive 57.6% faceoff win percentage through nine games. Winning nearly 60% of the draws a center takes is crucial for puck possession and scoring opportunities.
Kampf is also a critical piece of the penalty kill, usually playing centre on the second unit. He had the second most average time on the penalty kill per game of any forward, and fifth on the team overall. He also had a positive relative Corsi on the penalty kill, meaning the Hawks’ opponent controlled the puck less with Kampf on the ice. Even though Kampf does not get the recognition he deserves, he will prove his worth next season. In only his fourth season next year, Kampf will cement himself as one of the Blackhawks’ best defensive forwards.
Right now, Dylan Strome is a ticking time bomb before he explodes for 50 or more points a season. Initially traded to Chicago in the middle of the 2018-19 season, Strome put up 51 points in 58 games. But last season he was in a slump, only 38 points in the exact same amount of games. Colliton put him with everyone: Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, tried him on the first, second, and third lines, and nothing seemed to get him going. But he showed signs of promise with Kane and DeBrincat, the latter of which he has prior chemistry with from the OHL. His shot and offensive zone awareness were on full display when between those two wingers. That line makes up three of the top four assist leaders on the Hawks, further proving their chemistry.
Strome netted 12 goals this past season, although he was expected to score 34 based on shot quality,. Even though he wasn’t finding twine, Strome has the capability to score at least 35 goals a season. The problem was that Strome was stuck on the third line between two developing wingers, making his point production an uphill battle. However, if there is a time where he replaces Dach on the second line between Kane and DeBrincat, expect his goal total to go skyrocketing. Colliton put Strome on the third line to give Dach a chance to show his skill with better players. However, expect Strome to be moved back up to the second line once Dach becomes capable of controlling a line. And once he is and is surrounding by playmaking wingers, he will thrive.
Boqvist had a less-than-ideal playoffs last season. Against the Oilers, he gave up the puck in crucial defensive zone possessions, had poor breakout decision making, and overall played worse than the regular season. However, that will change next season. Boqvist has a lot of potential, but most of it is trapped beneath inexperience and youth. A lot of his poor decisions seemed to occur when he was rushed or pressured, showing his lack of experience.
However, Boqvist has the perfect storm to let him grow and mature. He has veteran players, such as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, to guide him and correct his mistakes, as well as provide support and be a mentor. He also has a roster spot, a crucial piece for young players’ development. This allows him to perform at an NHL level and not be held back in a minor league.
Boqvist is more of an offensively-minded defenceman, making a pairing with Keith a perfect duo. Offence and defence are balanced, as well as the veteran-youngster combination. Boqvist was playing first-line minutes, about 16 minutes per game, in his rookie season. This shows the confidence the Blackhawks’ coaching staff has in him. As Boqvist continues to play and develop, older players will either retire or be traded, giving Boqvist the space he needs to progress into a top defenceman in the league. Having Boqvist to lead the young defensive core of the 2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks will prove beneficial in a few years.