After turning heads in training camp, the Blackhawks made the decision on Wednesday to assign No. 8 overall pick Adam Boqvist to the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights, where he will continue his development under close watch by the organization.
Coach Joel Quenneville hinted earlier in the week that Boqvist could participate in each of the final three preseason games, but there were a few instances on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings where he was getting bodied around against NHL-level players rather than the prospects he had gone up against towards the beginning of preseason. That's one of the big reasons why he needs at least another year to develop, to grow into his frame and get used to playing against men. It's important to remember he just turned 18 in August, so there's still lots of room for him to grow physically.
"We said yesterday we wanted to make sure we were doing right by him," Quenneville said of Boqvist. "He's a young kid and we want him playing a lot. London's a pretty good place for any young junior player. It's a good spot for him this year, he's going to be in one place and I think it's a lot for a young guy at that age. We're thinking long-term, let's do what's right for his development and we felt that was the best decision."
Skill wise, his ceiling is whatever he wants it to be. The self-invited Erik Karlsson comparisons are obvious. It's why he made the Blackhawks give him a longer look at camp. That upside was evident.
"He really enhanced our thought process and where he belongs with our team and our organization and he really moved up the ladder a bit in some consideration in being here this long," Quenneville said. "Looking like he can be on your power play, he can help your team in a lot of ways and certainly got a lot of upside."
While it was fun for Chicago to think of the possibilities about Boqvist potentially starting the season on the Opening Night roster, this always felt like the most logical course of action. Keep him in training camp to absorb as much as he can from the veterans and take it back with him to the Knights, where he can apply all that information he learned.
"Younger guys have a lot of respect for some of the guys that have been here and the success that they have experienced," Quenneville said after Wednesday's practice. "You get a chance to talk to them or watch them, you can absorb so much. Their professionalism, the way they work out in the gym, how they prepare going into a practice, how they play games, what they say on the bench. Combination of the regular routine, how we play in practices, how we play in games and then you got [Duncan Keith] telling you where to go or be confident on the power play or be aware of this guy or that guy. Go here or go there.
"It makes you better at learning from somebody like Duncs who has been there and is a special player in that regard. They're comparable in ways when I say that they're not big defensemen and they rely on their assets and their skills and their quickness. But when we make a decision on Adam it's going to be what's best for him long-term in his career."
Now, Boqvist could still play in up to nine regular-season games this season without burning the first year of his entry-level deal even though he won't be starting the year on the team. It just may not work out that way.
The Knights regular season ends in mid-March, but they're more likely to play into May because they're one of the favorites to win the OHL championship. There might be a better chance of Boqvist joining the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League if their season is still going on, similar to what Victor Ejdsell by hopping on board during last season's playoff run.
"That's so far away," Quenneville said of the possibility. "We'll see how that all plays out but I'm sure he's looking forward to playing on a good team [in London] and it's a great place to play junior hockey."