Blackhawks Regular Season Grades: Forwards
Written by: Raffi Sarrafian
As hockey is beginning to get closer, now is a great time for some late end of the regular season grades for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks had many ups and downs this season. Injuries derailed many players, and holes in the powerplay once again created a mostly disappointing season for a team that was expected to compete more for a wild card spot this season. Offseason additions on the forwards side with Andrew Shaw, Ryan Carpenter, and Dominik Kubalik were impactful players when healthy or able to play for Chicago, and young players such as Kirby Dach showed what they had to give this season. Before I give separate forward grades for this past regular season, it’s important to evaluate the team's offense as a whole. With that in mind the grade I’d give the Blackhawks this season is a C.
It was a pretty average year overall which was expected for the Blackhawks statistically as they were in the middle in goals for, 18th with 208. The power play once again was brutal finishing 28th in the league at 15.2%. To sum it up, the Blackhawks finally had good results on the penalty kill even with Kubalik and Saad having nice step ups offensively 5 on 5. Even though they made the play in rounds, I’d still stick with my grade of a C. Now for the players grades. All players I will be grading have played at least 25 games this season and the grades go as follows.
Patrick Kane: A+
Even with the league going on pause, Patrick Kane was electric once again putting up 84 points in 70 games this season. He was one of a handful of players that finished with a positive +/- (+8), and led the team in goals, assists, and points once again. With many forwards having down years this season, Kane had to step up like he did last season, and once again delivered for the Blackhawks and practically kept them in most games. He is showing no signs of slowing down, and if the Hawks want to get playoff hockey for the first time in 3 seasons, they’ll need to step up, and support their superstar Patrick Kane.
Jonathan Toews: A-
After having a career high in points, goals, and assists last season (35 goals, 46 assists, 81 points), many people were predicting Toews would have a down year this season. However, although Toews wasn’t as great as he was last season, he showed his worth season with 60 points in 70 games, and led the team in faceoff percentage with 57.3% which had a huge effect on a high end penalty kill this season. It’s clear Toews has a lot of gas left in the tank at 32, and will need to find his 2010-2015 playoff gear if the Blackhawks want to make it into the playoffs this season.
Alex DeBrincat: B
I’m giving DeBrincat the benefit of the doubt this season with his down year after putting up almost 80 points and 41 goals last season, as well as signing a $6.4 million extension for 3 years at the start of this season in hope he finds that spark he had a season ago. Last season it seemed like no matter the angle or shot from the cat, it was going into the net, and this season it seemed that although he was getting similar chances, the goals just weren’t coming for him. I have confidence in him and Dylan Strome having a strong bounce back season next year, as well as being huge assets to the Blackhawks for the future. At the end of the day, this rough regular season could all be forgotten if he and Strome have a big spark in their first career “playoff” games. I’m not worried about him at all, and if he steps up vs Edmonton, it’ll be a much closer series than the experts make it out to be.
Dylan Strome: B-
It’s the same story as Alex DeBrincat this season, but once again I’m optimistic about them reaching their full potential in the coming seasons. I really like Dylan Strome’s frame, and if he uses it well, he can for sure become a solid 2 way center in the NHL one day. Although I would’ve liked another 50 point season from him, it worked out in the Blackhawks favor as he’ll likely receive less money this offseason as a soon to be RFA, which will help the cap strapped Hawks for sure. For the record, a 38 point season is nothing to frown about, but I’d hope he finds his groove once again next season and it’d be huge if he found it vs Edmonton in the play-in games. One thing I would like to see though is the ability to use the body more next season, as well as working on playing on wing so Dach can slide in with him and DeBrincat next season.
Kirby Dach: B
When Dach was picked with the 3rd overall pick last year, I, as well as many Blackhawks fans, couldn’t believe they didn’t select defenseman Bowen Byram or forwards Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield. However, Dach didn’t let the negative buzz get to him, and showed that he was the right pick at 3, and has a pretty high upside for the Blackhawks. As many rookies, Dach had many cold and hot parts during the regular season with a hot start to the regular season, cooling off for a few months, and then recapturing the spark he had in mid January, and carrying it up to the season’s pause. There’s no doubt in my mind Dach can’t become a first line center for Chicago, or at worst a key top 6 player in the future. He has some things to iron out for sure such as tightening up in the defensive zone, and getting more of a scoring touch, but there weren't any glaring flaws I saw from him this season. He finished tied with Kaapo Kakko, picked 2nd in last year's draft, and 2 points ahead of Jack Hughes, picked first overall last year, in points out of the players playing from the 2019 draft class. Next season I’d like to see him get some more top six minutes, but overall I’m excited to see what the future has in store for Dach.
Dominik Kubalik: A
No one expected Dominik Kubalik to have as good of a rookie season as he had this season. A former 7th round pick from LA, Kubalik finally got his shot at the NHL this season at 24 years of age with the Chicago Blackhawks, and he went above and beyond from what people predicted. In spite of DeBrincat and Strome having down years, Kubalik had a great season with 46 points, and 30 goals in his first NHL season. He for sure had a great scoring touch, and had a quick wrist shot to help him, and the Blackhawks would be foolish not to offer him a contract this upcoming offseason. If Kubalik can regain the energy he had in the regular season, the Blackhawks will for sure have a close hand on a very gifted offense with Edmonton. Hopefully this season isn’t a fluke for Kubalik, and he had many more 30 and 30+ goal seasons in the future. He has been and I hope continues to play minutes with Jonathan Toews over the next few seasons and can’t wait for the future in regards to Kubalik.
Brandon Saad: B+
He’s still no Artemi Panarin, but Saad when healthy this season was stellar and a huge help on the first line alongside Jonathan Toews. He was on pace for another 30 goal season and career high in points had he’d been healthy and there was no season pause, but Saad definitely was a bright spot to more of a down year for the Blackhawks offensively. He’s hit his prime now, and hopefully he can start picking up 60 point seasons for the Blackhawks in the near future. Every season he’s played since the 2013-2014 season he’s had 18+ goals, and he’s made some solid strides to become a solid top 6 winger for the Blackhawks. Expect him to be a sneaky player vs Edmonton and hopefully in the playoffs and step up out of nowhere when all hope seems lost.
Andrew Shaw: B-
It’s hard to grade someone who didn’t play too much this season, but before he was out for the season with a concussion, Andrew Shaw was exactly what the Blackhawks wanted from a physical standpoint. The Blackhawks brought Shaw back last offseason costing them a second rounder this year, and a third rounder next year, and when the regular season started, it seemed like the Blackhawks made the right choice by bringing him back. He had some great hits, got into a few fights, and brought some chippiness the Blackhawks didn’t have too much of the last few seasons. However, with him getting yet another concussion, Shaw’s career is in jeopardy, and retirement isn’t too far out of the question for him in the near future. There’s a very small chance he’s able to play vs Edmonton in the play-in rounds, but hopefully he suits up next season whenever it begins.
Alex Nylander: B-
Last offseason the Blackhawks decided to trade their young and upcoming defenseman Henri Jokijarju for a player who needed a change of scenery, Alex Nylander. Like many people, I was skeptical, but this season he showed positive signs in his first “full” season in the NHL. For most of the season Nylander played bottom 6 minutes where he was able to showcase his play making ability, but towards the end of the regular season he was paired alongside superstar Patrick Kane. Although he won’t have the star upside likely anymore, he still has the potential to become a great player on Kane’s line, and hopefully one day can slot into the Blackhawks top 6 in the future. 26 points in 65 games is a positive sign, and I expect him to at least get 30-35 points next season.
Ryan Carpenter: B
Ryan Carpenter was another offseason addition as he was signed on a 3 year $1 million per year contract in July. Although he wasn’t a big threat on offense, he was brought in to improve the penalty kill, and he was a key factor in the Blackhawks having a top 10 penalty kill in the regular season. I really like his defensive mind, and although I’d like to see some more offense from him in the future, Chicago definitely got bang for their buck with signing Carpenter. Come the play-ins, I expect him to help hold down the penalty kill when needed especially when the power play they go against has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl on the same line.
David Kampf: B
Just like Carpenter, Kampf has a very defensive minded game, and has been a big part of the Blackhawks penalty kill this past season. At only 25, Kampf has shown positive signs in his development, and should become an even better penalty killer, and solid top 9 forward in the future. Also like Carpenter, he needs to step up if the Blackhawks face Edmonton’s top 5 power play come the play-in rounds.
Drake Caggiula: C+
Although he was on pace for career highs in goals and points this season, an injury in mid November which led to him missing around 20 games this season. Although he’s a more defensive minded young forward, I would’ve liked to see him produce more on offense. He played a lot of minutes alongside Jonathan Toews, but the offense from Caggiula wasn’t there. I do really like his defensive mind, and think he should be resigned come the offseason as at 26 years old, he has plenty of time to keep improving his scoring touch, while strengthening his defense even more.
Zach Smith: C-
It may have been that he was playing 5 minutes less on average per game than his last few seasons with Ottawa, but for being traded for Artem Anisimov in the offseason, he was more of a let down than a boost to Chicago’s offense. He wasn’t too bad defensively, but his faceoff percentage dropped from hovering around or over 50% with Ottawa to just 46.3% this season in Chicago. $3.25 million for next season is too much for a guy the Blackhawks could replace in the offseason this season that’s cheaper and younger. For the cap strapped Blackhawks, don’t be shocked if Zach Smith is traded or bought out come this offseason.
Matthew Highmore: C
Highmore was called up in late November to play on the Blackhawks bottom 6, and although he was underwhelming, he’s only 24 and has plenty of chances in the future to get a solidified role in the Blackhawks lineup. He only played around 10 minutes per game this season, and on a very top heavy Blackhawks team offensively, he’ll probably continue to stay on the fourth line unless he has a breakout year. Even if he gets a point or two come the play-in round matchup vs Edmonton, I’d take it as a positive sign in his development, and hope he can have his first double digit point season come the 2020-2021 season.