If last season was any indication of it, anyone can be an impactful player regardless of their ice time. Forward Brandon Hagel, despite playing on the third line, broke out as one of the Chicago Blackhawks‘ best forwards. He showed a great deal of defensive reliability to go along with his strong vision for the ice. This season will be a big step for Hagel as well as the organization as a whole. With as active of an offseason as Chicago had entering year two of their rebuild, there’s a high bar the team has set for their performance. With high expectations, hopefully, comes high levels of achievement from the team and its players. Today we’re going to take a look at which players, new and returning, could be the Chicago Blackhawks breakout player of the season.
Chicago Blackhawks Breakout Players This Season
Kirby Dach is entering the third season of his playing career. Year one saw the centre get his legs in the National League. He didn’t play at an elite level, but he showed signs of improvement as the season progressed. Scoring at nearly a 30 point pace during your rookie season is exactly where a player with his playing style should be. Year two saw him take a larger step in the right direction. Despite missing the majority of the season with a wrist injury he sustained during the World Junior Championships, he showed up and showed out during his short season.
Offensively, Dach scored at a 45 point pace, two goals and eight assists in his 18 appearances. Defensively, he played a strong game on the back end. 18 takeaways, strong ice vision, and overall great defensive awareness despite starting most of his shifts in the offensive end. He increased his ice time by four minutes and will likely see another bump to it this season too. With a full offseason to get healthy Dach has all the tools and the ability to be one of the team’s top performers this year and truly break out.
Any Young Defenceman
The Blackhawks defence group finds themselves in a weird spot going into this season. General manager Stan Bowman went out this year and traded for top-pairing defenceman Seth Jones. He also signed former Buffalo Sabres blue liner Jake McCabe as a free agent. Those two guys are expected to rebound and be a net-positive to the rebuilding process, but they don’t need to “break out” to do that. The team has a handful of young defenceman that are all equally poised to break out and contribute in a big way.
Riley Stillman signed a three-year extension this summer to stay in the Windy City a few years longer. He showed signs of progressing despite only playing 13 games for the team. Stan Bowman doesn’t sign a player to a three-year extension with the intention to sit them on the bench. Unless their name is Collin Delia, but that’s a different story.
Wyatt Kalynuk played really well in his 21 game stint in the NHL. Four goals and five assists, fast-paced gameplay, and a good eye for the offensive side of the game. If he’s given the right role in the lineup he’ll have lots of success for year two of his NHL career. Similarly, Ian Mitchell has the tools to take his game to the next level this season. Even with his small size, Mitchell found a way to be a productive two-way asset to the blue line last season. Experience at the NHL will only make him, and the rest of the defencemen under this category, a better blue-liner.
With the spotlight away from long-time Blackhawk Duncan Keith and shifted towards a younger core on the blue line, any one of these players can step in and fill Keith’s shoes and light up the league. If the Chicago Blackhawks breakout players are going to succeed, these young defencemen will be a major factor in their success.
Before acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights, Kevin Lankinen would have been in a split role. He and Malcolm Subban would have continued to develop their games and possibly become the goaltending tandem of the Blackhawks’ future in the process. That is no longer the case. When you acquire the reigning Vezina winner for dirt cheap, it’s not to split the starting job with your goalie of the future. At the very least Lankinen will learn a lot by backing up the future hall of fame goaltender. What’s likely to happen is Lankinen will establish himself as a starting-calibre goalie by playing behind Fleury and put up solid numbers in that role. He already exceeded expectations last season when he assumed the starting role and rose to the challenge. This season will only further his dominance and ability in net.