Dylan Sikura came into the 2018-19 season with relatively high expectations. He was slotted in to play a top-six role in everyone's minds going into training camp, but as camp went on, started to get jumped on the depth chart and it was apparent that he could benefit from a stint in Rockford. So that's where he began the year.
It was a little hard to swallow for the Blackhawks, who lost another Opening Night top-nine forward after Vinnie Hinostroza was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes in the offseason to clear Marian Hossa's contract off the books. It may have been a bit of a wake-up call for Sikura, who realized the transition from college hockey to the NHL wouldn't be easy.
But he took a positive attitude to Rockford after shaking off the initial shock, and that's when the development really starts.
"I'm in a lot better spot," Sikura said. "The adjustments to the pro hockey level is pretty tough and I kind of found out the hard way. But I'm going to use the experience from two years ago when I was up here and obviously the time down in Rockford and hopefully have a better jump start here.
"For me it was important to go down there with a positive mindset. Some guys go down there and they're not too happy about it. But I think it's something that's going to benefit me in the long run. I got a lot from it, improved my game, just getting adjusted to this level and hopefully it will show here."
Jeremy Colliton coached Sikura for the first month of the season when he was the IceHogs head coach. He knows what he brings to the table and what kind of progression he's been making. Colliton felt it was time to reward Sikura with a call-up after leading the team in goals (9), points (18) and shots on goal (90).
"He has played better and that’s important to reward guys when they show a progression," Colliton said. "He’s been more active away from the puck. He’s a little heavier stick, heavier in battles, maybe more confidence, too. He’s made more plays, pucks have gone in the net for him. It’s always nice as a skill player to see them go in."
Part of the reason Sikura is finally up with the Blackhawks is that he's earned a look. Another might be because of the Blackhawks' desperate need for depth scoring. It's probably a combination of both.
Sikura made his season debut on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and kept it simple. He had one shot on goal and two takeaways in 9:33 of ice time, but noticeably skated with more confidence and appeared to be more comfortable. That's a positive step.
But the one thing both sides are hoping for is that Sikura seizes the opportunity and stays here for good because the Blackhawks need to start patching up the holes, not creating more.
"Obviously there's times down there when you question yourself and you question your play or when you're going to come up and stuff like that," Sikura said. "But I think it's important to just leave that behind. You got to know you're here for a reason and when you're called you got to be able to step up to the plate."
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