The Blackhawks divided practice into two groups on Thursday and Friday. One of them was filled with NHL players. The other was loaded with prospects.
Dylan Sikura found himself in the first group with the prospects, and it's hard not to read into what that could mean about his standing with the team as the coaching staff looks to finalize its 23-man roster over the next two weeks.
Once thought of as a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, Sikura put up strong numbers in the AHL last season but his offensive production hasn't translated to the NHL level.
Part of that is because he was put in favorable situations in college and Rockford, where he played first-line minutes and was the go-to guy on the top power play unit. It was difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago when players like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are viewed as the heavy lifters on offense.
When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June for defenseman Olli Maatta, GM Stan Bowman felt he was able to pull the trigger on that trade because he was confident that there were players in-house ready for bigger roles and that could fill Kahun's skates. Bowman singled out Sikura specifically.
“Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura,” Bowman said at the time. “He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik has.”
Bowman is right. When Sikura was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season, the Blackhawks controlled 55.4 percent of the shot attempts and 53.2 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, those numbers dropped to 47.7 and 45.5, respectively.
But through 38 career games with the Blackhawks, Sikura is still looking for his first career NHL goal and he knows it's a results-oriented business.
“It's obviously something you think about every now and then and it's tough but I thought there was spurts last year where I was really good," Sikura said. "And even though I wasn't scoring I was still playing and put in situations playing with top guys, so I think all that is going to help me in the long run. Coach always says you end up getting rewarded for what you deserve and I think if I continue to work away from the puck and work on that side of the game then the offense will come."
Sikura survived the first wave of cuts, which consisted of six players. But the next round is expected to be bigger and should come this weekend with the IceHogs training camp beginning Sunday.
Whether Sikura is part of that remains to be seen, but with a crowded forward group already and limited spots available, he might have to wait for his chance again mid-season.
“You always got to be ready, if it's going to be here to start the season or down there, you always got to be ready to go,” Sikura said. “You saw last year, I think when you're down there sometimes you don't think you're coming up then next day you get a call, so you always got to be ready and working on your game. It's a little bit of different hockey down there, but you've got to do the little things and I think my game kind of changes down there a little, but to stick up here I've got to do the little things and hopefully it all works out."