Ville Heinola

Looks like Kirby Dach is sticking with Blackhawks

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It looks like the top three picks of the 2019 NHL Draft will also play through at least the 10-game deadline that burns a year off of their entry-level contracts.

In the case of Jack Hughes (first pick, nine games played with the New Jersey Devils, little reason to expect anything but a full season barring injuries) and Kaapo Kakko (second pick, already 10 games played with the New York Rangers), this was all quite expected.

Third overall pick Kirby Dach, however? Now he was a wild card.

The Chicago Blackhawks decided to end any will-he-stay-or-will-he-go drama on Wednesday, stating that Dach will stay at the NHL level for the “foreseeable future.” The team’s official website uses the phrase “for the duration of the season,” if foreseeable future was too vague.

“Stan [Bowman] and I sat with him yesterday and told him he’s going to be here,” Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said on Wednesday. “He’s played well. He’s shown he can help us and he’s only going to get better. I think the player he is now, there’s likely going to be a huge improvement as the year goes on and the player (he is) in February I’m sure is going to be an impact player for us.”

It’s an interesting choice.

Dach, 18, has scored one goal and one assist through six games. That last matter is part of what makes this interesting: the Blackhawks saw enough in six games to make this announcement, when they could have taken some more time before that 10-game cutoff.

On one hand, Dach is acquitting himself quite well. His possession stats are pretty promising, which is heartening even with the sort of cushy deployment (about two-thirds of his shifts start in the offensive zone, via Hockey Reference) you’d expect from a rookie jumping right from the draft to the big time.

On the other hand, Dach is getting fairly modest ice time at just under 12 minutes (11:59) per game. For some perspective, the only players with lower TOI average for Chicago are Zach Smith (9:47) and Brendan Perlini (7:49), the latter of whom was traded.

Would hit-or-miss ice time, even as a nominal third-liner, be the best course for Dach’s development? That’s debatable, especially since Dach could either see more time as he matures, or less time if he falls into the doghouse that many rookies find themselves in, for reasons that range from fair to arbitrary.

(NHL coaches are notorious for giving rookies and young players short leashes, even if veteran replacements are clearly more limited.)

The Blackhawks are at least somewhat focused on the present, rather than going on a conscious tank, so there are other ways to look at Dach: he’s a competent asset already, seemingly, and at the dirt-cheap price of an entry-level deal.

Is it the best way to manage this asset, both from the perspective of developing Dach and also taking the best advantage of those entry-level years? Personally, I’m skeptical, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, it’s an impressive jump from the towering center.

***

With the help of Cap Friendly’s handy entry-level slides listings, here are a few other 10-game deadline situations to ponder:

  • Jack Hughes, nine games played: Check that box.
  • Ville Heinola, eight GP: The 20th pick of 2019 has made a nice impression with the Winnipeg Jets, but there are rumblings that his days are numbered. David Gustafsson is a Jets forward with six games played who may also be worth monitoring.
  • Joel Farabee, five GP: The Flyers forward’s apparently had some bad luck early on.

It’s tough to tell if the Flyers are leaning one way or the other with Farabee, who has an assist in his first five games, and has been getting decent ice time.

  • Oliver Wahlstrom, five GP; Noah Dobson, three GP: These two intriguing Islanders are probably (like Farabee) a little early to be judged one way or another. Then again, the Blackhawks made that call with Dach just six games in, so we’ll see.
  • Barrett Hayton, four GP: With three points in his first four NHL games, it would be surprising if the Coyotes weren’t looking for every excuse to keep him at this level, especially since Arizona could use that extra skill and creativity.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Jets shut down Penguins despite makeshift defense

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PITTSBURGH — Thanks to trades, free agency departures, an injury, and some recent personal matters, the Winnipeg Jets’ defense has been completely decimated over the past six months, leaving them with a makeshift unit for their game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night against the Penguins.

None of their top-eight defenders in ice-time from a year ago were available on Tuesday, and the unit as a whole had just 350 total games of NHL experience. You would be forgiven if you did not give them much of a chance to win with that lineup, especially after giving up a goal to Sidney Crosby just 32 seconds into the first period.

They not only won, they completely shut down the Penguins and received three goals from their makeshift blue line on their way to an impressive 4-1 win to wrap up their season-opening four-game road trip.

“Those guys have worked really hard back there, they are learning every shift,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “I think the forwards did a nice job too, and what our forwards do well is cause enough concern deep in the offensive zone that they draw people off our back end, and that’s what happened on a number of those goals.”

The defense started making an impact just five minutes after Crosby’s goal when 18-year-old rookie Ville Heinola blasted a slap shot between Matt Murray‘s arm and body that trickled into the back of the net for his first NHL goal. Maurice was asked if a first career goal from a young player can help lift a bench send some positive energy around the lineup.

“It depends if they like the kid or not,” he said. “And they really like this guy. He has a big smile on his face, he works really hard, and the players always respect talent. He does so many good little things that the guys on the ice appreciate.”

Heinola played 17:24 in the win, finishing as a plus-three along with the goal. With Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot gone and Dustin Byfuglien‘s future unsettled, the Jets are going to have to lean on young defenders like Heinola and Neal Pionk to take on significant roles right from the start.

Pionk also scored a goal in the win, already his second with the team after coming over from the New York Rangers in the Trouba trade.

“It feels good,” said Pionk. “We have a younger D corps, but they are all here for a reason. We are all here for a reason. We have proved it at other levels. If play our system we are going to be alright.”

Given all of the issues and questions the Jets have had on their blue line, they still managed to wrap up their four-game road trip to open the season with two wins, and that is just fine with Maurice.

“I’m happy with it, missing the guys we have. Then they feel good, like the defense have done something to make that happen. They have played a big part in that. You play .500 on the road and win your home games you are a good team.”

The Jets open their home schedule on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Jets’ defense takes yet another blow ahead of game vs. Penguins

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When the Winnipeg Jets had their 2018-19 season end this past April, their defense was made up of the following players: Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and Dmitry Kulikov. Not a great group by any means, but a formidable one that was good enough to help make the Jets a playoff team.

How many of those players will be in the lineup for them on Tuesday night when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Zero.

None of them.

Due to a series of roster moves and unfortunate circumstances the entire defense the team used a year ago is not available as the team prepares to open its current four-game road trip.

Trouba, Myers, and Chiarot all left the team over the summer (Trouba was traded to the Rangers; Myers and Chiarot departed in free agency), while Byfuglien stepped away just before the start of training camp to reportedly consider his future in the NHL.

All of that alone was enough to decimate their blue line.

The departures continued on Tuesday when the Jets announced that Kulikov has been given a personal leave from the team.

Morrissey, meanwhile, suffered an injury during warmups before the team’s most recent game against the New York Islanders and was held out of Sunday’s game. After practicing on Monday, coach Paul Maurice announced on Tuesday that the team is going to hold Morrissey out for at least another game (Tuesday in Pittsburgh) as a precaution.

This all means the Jets’ defense on Tuesday is going to include Sami Niku, Carl Dahlstrom, Neal Pionk, Ville Heinola, Anthony Bitetto and Tucker Poolman.

Combined NHL games for those six players: 350.

Heinola, 18, was the team’s first-round draft pick this past season and has played just three games so far, while Dahlstrom was claimed on waivers a week ago from the Chicago Blackhawks. Pionk is the “experienced” member of that group and was acquired over the summer from the Rangers in the Trouba trade. Calling that group a “makeshift defense” would be a monumental understatement.

Even though they are facing a Penguins team that is without two of its top three centers (Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad) it is still a dangerous team offensively with the Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel occupying the top line.

The Jets’ defense was always going to be a massive question mark this season, and it just seems to keep finding ways to get even more shorthanded. Starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck is going to need to play the best hockey of his career to keep this thing together.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.