Before departing for Europe, the Blackhawks assigned top defenseman prospect Adam Boqvist to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. But it wasn’t because of performance reasons.
The organization feels like its No. 8 overall pick in 2018 could benefit from starting the season in the AHL to get acclimated to the pro style of game before playing against NHL players full time.
“Yeah, we don’t need to be in a hurry with him,” coach Jeremy Colliton said on the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast. “We want to make sure he can play the way we want him to play long-term here. If that means some time in Rockford, I think that’s a positive to have some time to adjust to the pro game.
"Last year was a big jump for him, just coming over to North America and on the small ice, so I would expect the pro jump to be an adjustment. It’s not going to be smooth all the time, but I am impressed with how he’s done so far and even the leap, I think, from Traverse City to now he’s taken a step. Really excited about what he’s going to end up looking like in, not that long in the future. I don’t think he’s that far away.”
The question now is, when could we see Boqvist with the Blackhawks? The answer is a little complicated.
The Blackhawks are very high on what he brings to the table, but it’s a crowded blue line right now. Five defensemen (Calvin de Haan, Duncan Keith, Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy and Brent Seabrook) are under contract until at least the 2021-22 season and the other is Erik Gustafsson, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer but has been the offensive driving force on the back end for the Blackhawks.
And to add to it all: Boqvist is a slide candidate again, which means if he plays in nine or fewer NHL games this season, his entry-level contract won’t kick in until next season.
If he’s ready, the Blackhawks won’t hesitate to call him up. They’re not going to get in the way of his progression. But they also won't call him up if he’s going to serve as the fifth or sixth defenseman. They want him playing a big role when he gets to Chicago, not just trying to stay above water, and for those reasons we may not see Boqvist with the Blackhawks full-time until next season.
Depending on what the Blackhawks do with Gustafsson, who may get priced out of Chicago in the offseason, Boqvist might be the perfect candidate to slide into that top-four role and quarterback the first power play unit.
“Adam has shown progress just looking back to where he was a year ago and where he is now,” GM Stan Bowman said. “For him, the question has never been the talent level or the offensive ability. When he's got the puck he can do some pretty special things. He's got a unique skillset to be able to complement the offensive players and do things with the puck, so the question was just how was he going to be when he doesn't have it? I think he's really made some strides.
“His progression has been noticeable. I think he hasn't arrived yet and it's going to be a process to get him comfortable defending and playing without the puck. He's such a good skater though that he can influence the play and the biggest thing for a defenseman is, if you have a good gap you can force the other team to do things quick. When you back in a lot, you give them a chance to make plays. His quickness is noticeable and he can use his feet to defend."