January 10, 2018 | 2:50pm ET
By Tab Bamford, The Fourth Period
BLACKHAWKS SETTING SIGHTS ON 2018, AND BEYOND
Stan Bowman, General Manager
CHICAGO, IL -- In what other sport could a trade of two bottom-half of the roster players steal headlines and conversation from the announcement of rosters in the All-Star Game?
That’s exactly what Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman did on Wednesday when he consummated a deal with the Arizona Coyotes sending forward Richard Panik to the desert for disgruntled forward Anthony Duclair.
Duclair’s resume has been well documented. He was a third round pick by the Rangers in 2013 and promptly exploded for 50 goals in the QMJHL the following season, grabbing everyone’s attention. The following season he was rushed to New York and appeared in 18 games for the Rangers with a break to put on a show at the World Juniors. Seemingly overnight, Duclair became a hot commodity.
He was a good enough prospect that the Rangers were able to use him as a centerpiece in the trade that brought Keith Yandle to Madison Square Garden. Duclair then backed up the hype, scoring 20 goals as a 20-year-old in his first full NHL season.
But his relationship with the Coyotes was never good. Arizona GM John Chayka didn’t waste much time throwing shade in the wake of the trade, reminding everyone that he had been trying to dissolve the team’s relationship with the talented forward for more than a year.
From Chicago’s perspective, Chayka did them a number of favors on Wednesday.
Bowman was pretty clear in his comments during the Hawks 2-1 loss to Minnesota that Chicago is trending younger and faster. He pointed out that Chicago now has 13 players on their roster who are 25 or younger; last year at this time they had four. And if speed is a premium skill in the eyes of Chicago, they just got an elite player in Duclair.
But there are more layers to this deal, and other recent moves in Chicago, that show the Blackhawks are keeping their hearts in 2018 while their eyes may be further down the road.
On Monday, Chicago sent rookie forward John Hayden to Rockford and called up former Red Wings winger Tomas Jurco. The move surprised many in Chicago because Hayden had been pretty good this season. He’s a big kid (6-3, 230) who brought a tough, physical presence to the Hawks lineup every night. And he rarely took a shift off, something teams fighting for a playoff spot should value.
But Bowman has sent rookies down over the last couple years to get more consistent minutes in Rockford and it’s worked well. Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz have spent time in Rockford over the last couple years and come back performing at a much higher level. Chicago likes Hayden a great deal – which is why he went straight to Chicago from Yale last year – so the expectation is that he’s back soon.
Meanwhile, Jurco has yet to appear in an NHL game this season. Chicago gave up a third round pick to get him from Detroit at the deadline last year, which was also a bit of a surprise. He was enigmatic in Detroit but appeared to have found his game this season in the AHL with Rockford, scoring 13 goals in 36 games.
Is Jurco going to make the Blackhawks a world beater? No. But he’s an asset.
Also Monday, the Blackhawks put Cody Franson on waivers. When he surprisingly cleared, he was also sent to Rockford. The Blackhawks recalled Erik Gustafsson to take his place on the crowded blue line where the Blackhawks continue to carry eight players.
Gustafsson, 25, had 14 assists in 41 games with Chicago a couple years ago after signing a one-year deal. He inked an extension and suddenly found himself locked in the AHL, where he led the IceHogs defensive corps with 30 points last season. He played well enough to merit a call-up this season, but the Blackhawks moving on from a 30-year-old to make room for a younger player isn’t something we’ve seen in the past.
Over the course of this season, however, the Blackhawks have seen talent in their system and made room for it in the NHL. Vinnie Hinostroza got off to a great start in Rockford and was brought up in early December. He’s found his way to the Hawks’ top line recently, skating with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. He has nine points in 13 games with the Hawks.
During his press conference on Wednesday, Bowman going out of his way to point out the youth movement wasn’t subtle – especially the day after the team made Brent Seabrook a healthy scratch.
He’s already rewarded Hinostroza, Jurco, Gustafsson and David Kampf (brought up to play center while Artem Anisimov is on the shelf) with a recall.
Who’s next? Dylan Sikura.
Chalk this one up as the latest “how do the good teams always find good players late in the draft” for Chicago. Sikura was a sixth round pick (178th overall) in 2014 and headed to Northeastern University where he put up seven points in 25 games as a freshman. Fast forward to 2018 and he’s a front-runner for the Hobey Baker Award and received an invitation to join Team Canada for preliminary tournaments before the Olympics. He had 57 points (21 goals, 36 assists) in 38 games last year and continued that pace through injuries this season with 10 goals and 16 assists in 17 games.
During Bowman’s comments on Wednesday, he specifically spoke about Sikura, comparing his speed and playmaking ability to Schmaltz and Patrick Kane. Chicago has been public with having every intention of signing Sikura when his collegiate career comes to an end this season and brining him directly to Chicago, just as they did with Hayden a year ago.
Which brings us back to the Duclair trade.
Not only did Chicago get younger and faster, but they also cleared up cap space; Panik makes $1.6M more than Duclair this season and the Hawks completely cleared Panik’s $2.8M hit for the 2018-19 season.
Bowman has been emphatic that he likes the players he has in Chicago. Health has been an issue, especially missing Corey Crawford’s exceptional play in net. Bowman’s continued roster tweaking while creating more cap space indicates the Blackhawks are positioning themselves for a second half run this season. The entire organization’s acceptance of the youth movement also shows they’re eyeing a strong future, as well.