Blackhawks hoping to unlock Anthony Duclair's full potential

Blackhawks hoping to unlock Anthony Duclair's full potential

The Blackhawks got out in front of the Feb. 26 trade deadline by acquiring forward Anthony Duclair and defenseman Adam Clendening on Wednesday in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes that sent forwards Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin the other way.

This comes a week after it was reported Duclair requested a trade out of Arizona, and the Blackhawks didn't waste much time moving in. In fact, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman revealed Wednesday that he had inquired about the 22-year-old forward last year but the two sides couldn't come to an agreement. Talks picked back up 7-10 days ago and the deal "came together pretty quickly," Bowman said.

Duclair has 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 33 games this season and is a pending restricted free agent on a contract that carries a $1.2 million cap hit, leaving the door open for a possible extension after the season which would be a win-win for everyone if he performs well enough to earn it.

He's a talented offensive winger who once registered 50 goals and 49 assists for 99 points in 59 games for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. His best season in his young professional career came in 2015-16 when he compiled 20 goals and 24 assists in 81 games for the Coyotes.

But he hasn't gotten to that level since, and it was time for a change of scenery for both sides. And the Blackhawks are hoping to unlock his full potential.

"He's sort of a player that embodies what the NHL is all about now in terms of his speed and his ability to put the puck in the net," Bowman said. "I really like the way he skates, he brings the ability to be a really electrifying player. You have to give him some time. He's coming to a new team so we'll be patient with him. But that element of speed and youth is something that was really important to us."

After the trade, Bowman said he looked at the Blackhawks roster and noticed they have 13 players on the roster who are 25 years old or younger. By his count, they had just four last year around this time.

"In a matter of a year, we've been able to get considerably younger," Bowman said. "But we're still a team that wants to win. We're not playing for the future. But the game today is predicated on being able to skate. It's hard to play if you don't have the quickness and speed. A lot of the guys we've brought in recently bring that element to their game and I think it really meshes with the style Joel [Quenneville] wants to play.

"We want to play an up-tempo game and to do that you need guys on every line, not just on one or two lines. We're trying to get guys on every line, every D pair, that have great mobility."

Duclair certainly fits that mold as a player with speed and goal-scoring ability. His defensive game needs work, but look no further than Nick Schmaltz as a young, offensive-minded player who has become defensively responsible and has earned the trust of his head coach.

For a team scraping to stay in the playoff hunt, the Blackhawks simply lost patience with Panik and couldn't afford to continue waiting on him to produce at the rate he did last season.

The 26-year-old winger has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 37 games this season, but he went 27 games without a goal before Tuesday and had been fighting to stay in the lineup after starting the season on the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. It wasn't enough for a player that has one year remaining on a deal that carries a $2.8 million cap hit.

In trading Panik, the Blackhawks reduced their overall salary number by $1.6 million, according to, which they can use down the road to either set up another trade or simply use that flexibility for transactions (roster call-ups) throughout the end of the season.

In the big picture, acquiring Duclair is a low-risk, high-reward acquisition for the Blackhawks. Perhaps playing with a healthy combination of young and veteran skilled players, a handful of whom have three Stanley Cups to their names, behind a Hall of Fame coach can help bring out the best of his abilities. 

"He's got some upside," coach Joel Quenneville said of Duclair, who is expected to make his Blackhawks debut Friday at home against the Winnipeg Jets. "A couple opportunities here, coming here he's got to be excited about the chance to prove himself to be a regular, and there's opportunity to move up in the lineup as he goes along here. He certainly gives us a lot of speed and quickness and he's dangerous be if off the rush. So, I'm looking forward to see how he comes in our lineup and give him every opportunity to move up in the lineup as well."

Nick Schmaltz to play first game at United Center since being traded by Blackhawks

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Nick Schmaltz to play first game at United Center since being traded by Blackhawks

Former Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz was dealt a tough hand last season. The Hawks traded the Madison, Wisc., native to the Arizona Coyotes for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini on Nov. 25, 2018. 

"Probably for the first couple weeks it was still shocking and different to be part of a new organization," Schmaltz said. "But as you get more comfortable with everyone, I would say a couple months probably before it sunk in, but I felt comfortable right away."

Then, after recording 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 games with the Coyotes, Schmaltz had season-ending knee surgery. 

"It was tough," the 23-year-old said. "It wasn't like one specific thing that blew out my knee or anything, it was just nagging me over time. Obviously it was tough, I had to sit out 40 games or whatever. 

"So that was frustrating, especially because the team was doing well and I was feeling really comfortable. So it was frustrating, but happy to be back and we got off to a good start so far (currently second in the Pacific division)."

Some good fortune came Schmaltz's way when Arizona gave him a seven-year contract for $40.95 million in March.

Sunday marks his first game back at the United Center. 

"I think I'll have a lot of energy," said Schmaltz, who will have family in attendance. "I think I'll be excited. I don't think there'll be too many nerves or anything, I think it'll be fun to play against those guys and I'll be ready to go."

Schmaltz logged a lot of ice time playing with Patrick Kane when he was with Chicago from 2016-2018. 

"He was great to play with," Kane said of Schmaltz. "One of those guys I really enjoyed playing with because he was so fast and as a centerman he really did a good job of taking the puck up the middle of the ice, drawing guys to him then kind of kicking it to the wing and still driving through his feet to the point where the defense had to decide whether to honor him and go back to him or come with me and leave him open. 

"He was really good in that regard, a lot of speed up the middle. I really enjoyed playing with him and developing chemistry with him the years he was here.

"He's a good kid too. I really enjoyed being around him, hanging out with him, golfing with him, things like that. I enjoyed his time here."

Schmaltz's unique golfing style impressed Kane as much as his hockey skills did.

"Really good," Kane said of his former teammate's golf game. "It's funny when he hits it, the ball doesn't come very far off the ground, but it just goes a mile and he does the opposite with his irons, he hits them so high and then they just land and stop. He's a good golfer."

"He's got his days, he's kind of up and down," Schmaltz said of Kane swinging the clubs. "He can go low 80s or he can fire 100, it just depends how he's feeling. We've had a few games. It's a lot of fun playing with him."

Dylan Sikura out to prove he can be 'everyday kind of guy' with Blackhawks

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Dylan Sikura out to prove he can be 'everyday kind of guy' with Blackhawks

The Blackhawks recalled forward Dylan Sikura from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, the team announced Sunday morning. In a corresponding move for financial reasons, Anton Wedin was reassigned to Rockford after four games with the Blackhawks.

Sikura leads the IceHogs in goals (nine), points (16) and shots on goal (99) in 22 games this season. He was on a three-game point streak (one goal, two assists) prior to the call-up. 

Back in Chicago for the third year — first this season — Sikura is out to prove he can stay for good.

"I think this time around just prove that I can play, I can stay, be an everyday kind of guy up here," Sikura said. "There's times last year towards the end of the year where I was proving myself a little bit and I'm excited to get a fresh start and another chance here."

The biggest challenge for Sikura in the NHL has always been making the most of the minutes he gets at even strength. In college, he played in all situations. In Rockford, he was a top-line player and a key piece to the first power-play unit.

But it's difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago on a roster with Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews carrying the offensive load.

Sikura has 11 assists in 38 games across two seasons with the Blackhawks, but he's still searching for his first career NHL goal, which is something that weighed on his mind going into the summer. He takes a lot of pride in contributing on the scoresheet, and he's hoping the goals come naturally for him this time around.

"Absolutely," a smiling Sikura said. "I think that's something that's important for me. Down there, I get opportunities to score goals and obviously that's something I'd like to do at this level so hopefully we can put this to rest soon."

Sunday's game against the Arizona Coyotes will be Sikura's third in as many days. He played in Grand Rapids on Friday, Rockford on Saturday, got the call-up after the game and drove to Chicago around midnight.

It's unclear where he'll slot into the lineup, but the Blackhawks are pleased with his body of work and felt it was time to give Sikura a shot with the big club.

"I think he showed that he can contribute with us with his pace of play," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought his line, when I looked back at him, Toews and Saad [last season], they had a really good stretch where they were driving possession and giving us offensive zone time and that line came through with some production too. He didn't necessarily score, but he was a part of that.

"Just energy and work ethic, and he has some skill too. But it's not unlike a lot of young players — just finding a way to do it every single shift every single night. We're looking for that throughout our lineup, so if he can bring it that'll help him."

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