The importance of Adam Boqvist signing with Blackhawks and projecting his NHL timetable

The importance of Adam Boqvist signing with Blackhawks and projecting his NHL timetable

The Blackhawks made four signings on Day 1 of NHL free agency, three of which were announced at exactly 11:01 a.m. on July 1. The fourth flew under the radar.

Adam Boqvist, whom the Blackhawks selected with their No. 8 overall pick last month, signed his entry-level contract, and it came as a little bit of a surprise without much time to digest amid the free agent frenzy. Heck, the Blackhawks even assigned him jersey No. 27 and announced it with the other three signings.

Does this indicate Boqvist will have a legitimate shot at competing for a roster spot this upcoming season? Not exactly.

On Thursday, Boqvist signed with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights — the team that took him in the 2017 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft — for the 2018-19 season and the Blackhawks are simply hoping to play more of a hands-on role in his development by having him under contract. The move from the Swedish Hockey League to the OHL will also allow Boqvist to make that transition to a smaller ice surface as he gets accustomed to the North American style of play.

"It’s so we can play a larger role in his development next season," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said last week. "That hasn’t 100 percent been determined, but we have a lot more options now. If he had been unsigned, it would sort of be up to the team in Sweden where he was going to go. Now we can play a bigger role in that. We want to make sure that he has a really good development year because this is sort of a critical season for someone like him who’s got so much ability and so much talent. This allows us a lot more control with where he goes and how he progresses in the next year. That was the primary motivation."

Basically, the Blackhawks want to try accelerating his progression so that when his contract expires next season they can reevaluate and potentially give him a chance to play in the NHL by 2019-20. And that's certainly not out of the question.

Bowman appeared on 670 The Score on Tuesday morning and had this to say about Henri Jokiharju, the team's 29th overall pick in 2017:

"He's one year ahead of where Boqvist is because he's played another year since his draft," Bowman said. "So he's going to come to training camp and it's not out of the realm that he can make our team. I never say never because it's a competition. Once we open camp it's one of those things where we want to take the best guys and until we see how he performs relative to the other guys we don't know, so I don't rule that out.

"We're also not assuming that he's making the team. It's a competition and if he's going to help us win then he's going to be there, so you've just got to be careful with the young players, especially at defense because you don't want them to try to survive in the league, you want them to thrive and you want them to have that confidence. Sometimes when they're just trying to get their feet wet they don't do everything that they could do, so we'll monitor that. Henri's a pretty confident kid. We really like this talent level. To answer your original question, I think the guys from this year's draft, the two defensemen we took earlier, they're not going to be on the team next season but after that I would say we'll just have to assess how their progression went in one year and you never know."

Why is Jokiharju's situation relevant to Boqvist? Because if the Blackhawks view Jokiharju, who was taken near the end of the first round, as someone who can immediately push for a spot on the 23-man NHL roster after a year of development in the Canadian Hockey League, why can't Boqvist, who was a Top-8 pick and has a much higher ceiling? 

Obviously, you want to be a little more careful with Boqvist's development because of that Erik Karlsson-like potential, but we're seeing it more and more in the league these days that younger players — even defensemen — are making an instant impact as teenagers: Shayne Gostisbehere, Charlie McAvoy, Ivan Provorov, Mikhail Sergachev and Zach Werenski, to name a few.

As far as Boqvist's contract, his entry-level deal will only kick in if he plays more than nine games in the NHL this season. Because he'll play with the Knights, his contract will then slide a year.

"That's a big move for us, in particularly for the development of Adam over the next couple seasons," Bowman said. "Obviously he's got a ton of talent. We're really excited about his skill set, what he brings to the table. He's a dynamic offensive defenseman. We're looking to kind of play a role in his development over the next couple years. The goal is to get him ready for the NHL as soon as possible. We don't really have a timetable on that."

To clarify any confusion: The CHL/NHL transfer rule that players under 20 years old are ineligible to play in the minor leagues (AHL and ECHL) does not apply in this case because Boqvist was drafted as a member of his European club (Brynäs). He will be eligible to play in the AHL next season if he doesn't make the Blackhawks out of training camp. 

It's also possible Boqvist could join the Rockford IceHogs for their stretch run depending on when the Knights campaign ends, like Victor Ejdsell did last year, if the Blackhawks feel he's ready to advance to that next step. In fact, Boqvist would even be eligible to join the Blackhawks for a couple regular season games, too, as long as he doesn't reach the 10-game mark, which he wouldn't. Participating in playoff games, however, would mean burning the first year of his entry-level deal.

The Knights have high expectations so all of this could be irrelevant. But looking ahead to the Blackhawks' 2019 training camp and there's a real possibility Boqvist can challenge for a spot, much like Jokiharju could do this season.

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators


Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.