For five games towards the end of a lost season, Chicago Blackhawks prospect Dylan Sikura got a taste of what life in the NHL might be like.
After a dominant career at Northeastern University, Sikura joined the Blackhawks and dished out a pair of assists in his first NHL game on March 29 before finishing his season with three assists total on April 7. It was a whirlwind week and change, but it was enough to affirm his standing as Chicago’s next top prospect and now he enters the 2018-19 season facing high expectations.
The Athletic’s Scott Powers slotted him as the No. 1 prospect in the Blackhawks system and pegged him for a position on the wing in one of the top two lines. Joel Quenneville floated Patrick Kane, Nick Schmaltz and Brandon Saad as a top line recently. That could mean a lot of ice time on the other line with captain Jonathan Toews and winger Alex DeBrincat, who burst on the scene last season and put concerns about his size (5-foot-7 and 165 pounds) to rest with 28 goals and 24 assists.
That sort of proximity to DeBrincat should shine a bright light on Sikura, who the Blackhawks need to be DeBrincat-like in terms of production to put a disastrous season in 2017-18 behind them. Because despite finally having some money to spend this offseason, the Blackhawks failed to attract much interest in free agency to plug their roster holes.
The organization will continue to work the phones in an effort to find a top-6 forward and a top-4 defenseman with their available salary cap space. However, if the current trend holds and they’re unable to pull off a trade, they’ll have to repair what’s broken internally.
Sikura won’t make or break those top two lines. Saad and Toews bouncing back and Schmaltz and DeBrincat continuing to develop are arguably all more important elements. But getting 50 points or more out of the 23-year-old left-hand shot will certainly help mask the fact that Stan Bowman made an effort in free agency and came up empty-handed.
And at the risk of sounding like hockey writing’s version of Gucci Gang, you have to trust Bowman when it comes to undersized forwards who can skate and have considerable skill. The organization has a pretty well detailed history of success with these types of players recently.
Sikura should fit in nicely as a playmaker on the left wing with an all-time great two-way center (Toews) and another playmaker verging on sniper (15.5 percent shooting percentage last year) in DeBrincat. It’s a line that makes sense and gives the Blackhawks options offensively, with Sikura having the potential to provide 30 assists or more with any recovery whatsoever in Toews’ shooting percentage.
But with all that being said, expecting it to be easy for a kid with five games of NHL experience isn’t exactly fair. Will his scoring touch translate to this level or will he be a defensive liability and put pressure additional pressure on Toews?
The Blackhawks can’t really afford him to be too one-note offensively and they certainly can’t afford him to create serious problems for them defensively with their issues on the blue line. Like with DeBrincat (sensing a theme yet?), Sikura’s ability to control possession will have to mask any challenges he presents on defense.
The organization is confident that he can do exactly that. For now, we’ll have to take them at their word.