If Dach, Boqvist can take giant leap then maybe Blackhawks can too
Ever since the Blackhawks missed the playoffs in 2018, I'm constantly asked how things are looking for the upcoming season.
The answer has been nearly identical every summer and won't change as we close the book on this season: The Hawks are in the dreaded no man's land of professional sports.
There's still plenty of star power and veteran leadership, but that group is surrounded by up-and-comers who haven't come close to reaching their potential. It ends up producing uneven results and a bunch of .500-ish seasons.
One way for the Hawks to break this cycle would be for Kirby Dach and defenseman Adam Boqvist to take giant, quantum leaps next season.
We're talking 25 goals and 50 assists for Dach, and a 10-goal, 40-assist season for Boqvist in which he averages 22-23 minutes a game while shutting down opponents' best players.
While the odds of either, or both, of those things happening aren't great, they aren't impossible. And if they are to happen, it all starts now.
After an uneven regular season in which he was slowly given more and more responsibility, a confident Dach opened plenty of eyes during summer training camp. He then played a big part in ousting Edmonton by racking up 4 assists in the first three games.
Why the big improvement? Turns out a little time away was just what the doctor ordered.
"I skated pretty much for 18 straight months starting from last season -- my draft year -- to the COVID break," said Dach, who scored 8 goals and had 15 assists in 64 regular-season games. "Everything happened so fast. You get drafted, you have development camps, you've got World Junior camps, you've got main camp and rookie camp come up right after that stuff.
"The break rejuvenated my game."
The 6-foot-4, 197-pound Dach wants to add some bulk to his frame but not so much that it affects how he skates.
Dach, like many young players, also needs to understand it's OK to be selfish and shoot the puck more. He put only 16 shots on goal in nine postseason games, deferring to teammates a couple of times when the better option may have been to let one rip.
"I just have to find more confidence in my shot, work on that over the break and find ways to put more pucks towards the net," Dach said. "As a pass-first guy, if you can develop shooting mentality, it's gonna open up passing lanes for you and make it easier on your life.
"That's still something I have to find a way to get better at."
As for the 20-year-old Boqvist, he admitted to being a bit star-struck at first while looking around the room at Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and Brent Seabrook.
"I was really nervous when I first got the call," said Boqvist, who made his debut on November 2 and scored the next night in a victory at Anaheim. "That's every hockey player's dream to play in the NHL. ...
"When you sit next to Duncan, Kane and Toews and Seabs and everyone, it doesn't feel real, you know? You remember yesterday what it was like watching hockey with your mom and dad and brother on the couch back home."
Boqvist, who is from Sweden and at times struggles a bit during interviews, was quite the opposite during his Zoom session with reporters last week. He was engaged and had no problem telling us how he wants to improve going into the 2020-21 campaign.
"I can do more in the offensive zone -- be a threat every time I'm on the ice. Join the rush more, stuff like that," said Boqvist. "It all comes with how comfortable you feel out there."
Boqvist, who scored 4 goals in 41 regular-season games, did stumble at times during the postseason, but as I've pointed out he probably wasn't ready to handle everything a team like Vegas throws at you.
Even at the start of next season, it would probably be better if coach Jeremy Colliton placed Boqvist on the second pairing. But that's not the way of the new-age NHL, where the salary cap has forced 18- and 19-year-olds into some awfully high-stress roles.
It's trial by fire, which can be good and bad depending on the athlete's mental makeup.
Boqvist is fortunate he can soak in an awful lot of knowledge from a future Hall of Famer in Keith. The key is for that knowledge to come oozing out onto the ice as quickly as possible.
Because if it does -- for both Boqvist and Dach -- then maybe the Hawks can break this run of mediocrity before Kane, Toews, Keith and perhaps Crawford go riding off into the sunset.
"It was really good to play with Duncan and learn from him as well," Boqvist said. "He's a great hockey player and an even better person. Everyone helped me very much. ... And of course, Jeremy, he believed in me.
"I think next year I have to come back and show them that I want to be a bigger part of the team and help the team to win. And win a Stanley Cup."