Adam Boqvist

Adam Boqvist ‘going with the flow’ to start Blackhawks career

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s been a whirlwind week for Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist, as the eighth overall pick from the 2018 NHL Draft has had a trio of firsts.

On Oct. 30, Boqvist recorded his first professional goal during a 6-2 win with the AHL Rockford IceHogs. The following day he was recalled by the Blackhawks, made his NHL debut on Saturday and scored his first goal during Sunday night’s overtime win over the Ducks.

The Blackhawks are currently in the midst of a youth movement — as best as they can given their salary cap situation — and Boqvist has been looked at as a cornerstone on the blue line. Through two games he’s been paired heavily with Duncan Keith at even strength and showed enough in his NHL debut Saturday against the Kings to have head coach Jeremy Colliton put him on the ice for three shifts as the lone defenseman in overtime, playing a little over two minutes of the extra frame. His puck-moving abilities has also allowed him to quarterback the second power play unit.

“He’s been really good,” said Colliton. “Obviously, he does bring that dimension to the power play. He can finish, he’s got a great release. His movement is fantastic back there. He could have scored in overtime [against Los Angeles], too, so clearly he’s having an impact on the game, but I think defensively he’s been quite good. We feel pretty comfortable with him out there. Obviously, we’re trying to protect him when we can, but he’s made a really good impression so far.”

[COVERAGE OF BLACKHAWKS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The 19-year-old London Knights product played only six games in the AHL before being called up. He wasn’t impressed with his own play in Rockford, but he was put in a strong situation in Chicago being paired with a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

It wasn’t the best of starts, however. Boqvist logged 12:57 of even strength ice time against the Kings, and saw a minus-seven shot differential (11-18) when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. But possession was a team-wide issue Saturday night. The rookie improved mightily in that department against the Ducks with a 16-7 shot advantage at even strength when the Falun, Sweden native hopped over the boards, which led to a team-best 69.57 Corsi on the evening.

Improving his stick work, working on gap control, and adjusting to the rigors of the NHL will take time for Boqvist. But for the moment he’s just doing what he knows best.

“I don’t think so much out there,” Boqvist said. “It’s happened so quick and everything. There’s so much in my head right now. I got called up four days ago. So I’m just going to go with the flow.”

Kathryn Tappen will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. Randy Hahn and Jamie Baker will call the Blackhawks-Sharks matchup from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blackhawks call up Boqvist as youth movement continues

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Just a couple of days after making it clear that forward Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft, would be sticking with the Chicago Blackhawks the team announced it is turning to another of its top young players.

The Blackhawks announced on Thursday that they have recalled defenseman Adam Boqvist from Rockford of the American Hockey League. Boqvist, 19, was the No. 8 overall pick by the team in 2018 and is playing in his first season of professional hockey and just scored his first AHL goal on Wednesday night. He spent his draft year playing for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and put together a monster season offensively with 20 goals and 40 assists in 54 games.

This is an interesting move because it means the Blackhawks now have eight defensemen on their active roster (and that does not count Connor Murphy, who is currently on the long-term injured list). It does not seem logical to think they would call-up one of their top prospects and not play him (it does him no good to sit and not play) so Blackhawks fans should be getting a pretty good glimpse of their future with Boqvist and Dach in the lineup.

Defense is once again a problem spot in Chicago this season while the team is already dealing with the tricky situation that is Brent Seabrook‘s current role, having made him a healthy scratch in each of the past two games.

The Blackhawks have won just three of their first 11 games this season and are giving up close to three-and-a-half goals per game. Unless something drastic happens here shortly it seems that they could be on a path for a third consecutive non-playoff season.

Related: It looks like Dach is staying with Blackhawks

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blackhawks shaping up as NHL’s biggest wild card

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It is easy to look at the Chicago Blackhawks and come to the conclusion that their Stanley Cup window has slammed shut.

They have missed the playoffs two years in a row, have not won a playoff game in three years, and have not been out of the first round in four years.

Their championship core is older, some of them are gone, and they still have some flaws on their roster that could hold them back.

But if recent NHL seasons have shown us anything it is that we should take the idea of “a championship window” and throw it in the garbage (and I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to referring to “windows” … it’s time to stop). The Pittsburgh Penguins’ championship window in the Sidney CrosbyEvgeni MalkinKris Letang era was thought to be closing … before they won two in a row. The Washington Capitals were thought to have missed their chance in the Alex Ovechkin era … before they finally won it all in 2018. Then this season we had the St. Louis Blues whose window, again, seemed to be perpetually closed … until they won.

The takeaway from all of those teams should probably be this: If you have elite players that are still capable of producing at elite levels, you probably still have a chance to win the big trophy at the end of the season as long as you can put the right players around them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That is what makes the Blackhawks one of the NHL’s biggest boom-or-bust teams heading into the 2019-20 season.

The thing about Blackhawks this past season is they definitely had the offense to be a playoff team. They finished the year eighth in goals scored (one of only two teams in the top-16 that did not make the playoffs) and still have the always important top-line players that are capable of producing at an elite level.

Alex DeBrincat is an emerging superstar. Patrick Kane is still one of the best offensive players in the league. Jonathan Toews had an offensive resurgence this past season and is still a great defensive player. Brandon Saad may not be what he was expected to be or what the Blackhawks want him to be, but he will still give you 25 goals just by showing up.

Then there was perhaps the most significant development this past season, which was the emergence of Dylan Strome, the former No. 3 overall pick that is still only 22 years old and seemed to start realizing some of his potential following the mid-season trade over from Arizona. He is still a gifted player with enormous potential that has performed and produced at every stage of his development and finally started to do so at the NHL level once he got an increased role in Chicago. If he builds on that it gives the Blackhawks yet another key building block in place.

Top-line players are the most important pieces of a championship puzzle and the hardest ones to acquire, and the Blackhawks already have them. The problem the past two seasons has been everything that surrounds those pieces.

They still have some pretty glaring holes among their bottom-six forwards, but the return of Andrew Shaw from Montreal should help their forward depth a little bit.

The key to any success or failure will be what they can do when it comes to goal prevention, and that is where much of Bowman’s work has focussed this offseason.

The Blackhawks were a disaster of a defensive team this past season, and when combined with the health issues that have plagued starting goalie Corey Crawford it resulted in one of the worst defensive performances in the league. Nothing else held them back more than that.

What makes the Blackhawks such a wild card team this season is that they seem to have the potential to see some significant improvement in this area.

[Related: Blackhawks’ defense suddenly looks respectable]

While Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are a shell of their former selves (especially Seabrook), there is some hope for the future of the blue line due to recent first-round pick Adam Boqvist.

(Update: Chicago’s 2017 first-round pick, Henrik Jokiharju, was initially mentioned here as well, but he was traded to Buffalo for Alexander Nylander hours after this post was published)

When it comes to a more short-term outlook, the Blackhawks invested heavily this offseason in goal prevention with the additions of Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan, and goalie Robin Lehner. de Haan may not be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from offseason surgery but has the potential to make a significant impact. His strength is shot suppression and the Blackhawks badly need defenders that can keep the puck away from their goalies. Maatta doesn’t do anything to improve the team speed or its offensive firepower, but he is a capable defender that cuts down chances against.

Both players should help.

But the biggest potential improvement could come from the presence of Lehner.

His addition in free agency was one of the more eye-opening signings in the league, not only due to the short-term and bargain price, but because the Blackhawks already have a starting goalie in Corey Crawford … when he is healthy. The problem for Crawford and the Blackhawks is he has had significant health issues the past two seasons, while the team has had no capable replacement. Just look at what has happened to the Blackhawks the past two seasons without him.

Pretty significant drop there without Crawford, and over a pretty significant stretch of games.

With Crawford (or any competent goalie), they have at least been close to a playoff spot. Without him they are pretty awful. With Lehner now in place they have two above average starters which should give the Blackhawks options. They not only have a Plan B if Crawford is not available, but they have a great platoon option if he is and just want to better pace out his minutes and playing time. Even if Lehner doesn’t duplicate his 2018-19 performance, he will still be a significantly better option than what the Blackhawks had. They don’t need Lehner to be a savior, they basically just need him to NOT be Cam Ward, Anton Forsberg, Jean-Francois Berube, or Jeff Glass.

Even a .916 save percentage from Non-Crawford goalies (Lehner’s career average) would have trimmed somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 goals off of the Blackhawks’ total this past season on the same number of shots. That alone would have moved them from 30th in goals against to 20th. Still not great, but closer to where they need to be. Add in a better defensive performance with the additions of de Haan and Maatta, and they get even closer.

Yes, there are a lot of “ifs” and “maybes” and “this needs to go right” in this discussion, but the potential is definitely there.

They still have the right pieces in place at the top and they made additions in the right areas to complement that.

If those additions work out as planned, this team could once again be a fierce team to deal with in the West.

If they don’t … it might be back to the lottery for another season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.