Before the start of the 2021 NHL season, many media and hockey fans did not give the Chicago Blackhawks a chance. Although the team had top talent with Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Alex DeBrincat, analysts were concerned about the offensive depth, defensive duos and lack of goalie experience. On top of that, captain Jonathan Toews was out of the lineup for a long time and Kirby Dah was suspended in the first round of what many assumed would be the 2019 season. In addition, many were dissatisfied with the performance of the team’s president and general manager, Stan Bowman, during the season.

After the Vegas Golden Knights were eliminated from the playoffs last season, Bowman decided to part ways with two-time Stanley Cup champion and fan favorite Corey Crawford. To say this is an unpopular decision would be an understatement. Bowman, however, has not failed to make such decisions during his career with the team. Another move that drew the ire of fans was the Brandon Saad trade that was the catalyst for the very unpopular Artemi Panerin trade a few seasons ago.

To put it bluntly, it hasn’t been good for Ole Stan Bowman. Many felt the formation he set up was half-hearted, with aging appointments and inexperienced young players. Some have even called it a team on fire, which makes the Blackhawks’ early success this season all the more impressive. No one expected this team to be at 45 points after 43 games. While some of Bowman’s past decisions are impossible to defend, perhaps we can shed some light on the effectiveness of his recent acquisitions.

Weapons on loan

Photo: AP Photo/Sam Hodd

For a team ready to compete for the Stanley Cup, bringing in veterans like Karl Soderberg and Mattias Janmark makes sense. But if you’re expecting a reconstruction, they don’t seem like ideal candidates for the ice age.

Many thought Soderbergh, 35, would be a worthy asset to coach the team through the deadline, but his work with the bottom six has been impressive. Soderberg was also important in the penalty kill department. Söderberg scored 15 points in 34 games with the team and won over 51% of the group games. He exceeded expectations for his age, and provided the Blackhawks with a decent income on the trade market.

We have to disclose the agreement

The #Blackhawks acquire the rights to Ryder Rolston and Colorado forward Josh Dickinson in exchange for Carl Soderberg.

Dickinson is under contract through the end of this season (maximum $925,000) and Rolston is not under contract at Notre Dame. #NHLTradeDeadline pic.twitter.com/hQpevpvaFl

– Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) April 12, 2021

Matthias Janmark also exceeded expectations. The 28-year-old striker has proven to be an immediate attacking force in five games this season in which he has scored two points. Janmark scored 19 points in 41 games, setting a career record this season. But with the team looking to the future, it was inevitable that Janmark would leave Chicago at the deadline. General manager Stan Bowman got value for his money by sending Janmark to the Vegas Golden Knights for a multiple pick.

For more analysis and commentary on all the Blackhawks’ deadlines, check out the latest episode of the Four Feathers podcast.

International communication

Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images.

Whatever you think of Bowman’s past as a free agent, his ability to scout overseas talent would be almost impossible to ignore. While the most obvious name that comes to mind, besides Artemi Panarin, is Czech Dominik Kubalik, who is having another impressive season, the other two have improved greatly of late: Pius Suter, born in Switzerland, and Philippe Kurashev.

Pius Suter played the last few seasons for the ZSC Lions in the National League and was always successful at the highest level. Suter was named the 2019-20 National League MVP with 53 points in 50 games, including 30 goals. Bowman saw a golden opportunity to contract one of the best players overseas, bringing in Suter in July 2020. While many expected Suter to play a role, no one expected him to finish fourth on the team in points. Suter also notched his first hat trick as a professional, scoring 11 goals, including three match goals. The sky is the limit for a 24-year-old center who has already seen time in the top six this season.

Philippe Kurashev, who followed a different path from Souter, was also an impressive young figure on the team. Kurashev is only 21 years old and is the 120th player in the history of the game. Overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and is a fixture on the team. He is currently the team’s seventh point guard and has shown strong offensive skills with seven goals and six assists. While his defense will almost certainly be the cornerstone of his development, there aren’t many NHL prospects at such a young age. Kurashev is well positioned to become another diamond in the rough.

Quiet. Cool. Mounted. Kevin.

Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

What else is there to say about how impressive Kevin Lankinen has been this season? Lankinen, also a product of foreign scouting, has entered the season as a secondary character for most fans. A real rivalry was expected between Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban, who both started the season on the active roster. However, it was the Finnish goalkeeper who took the starting role and made the most of it. So far, Lankinen has a 15-11-4 record with a .915 save percentage and a 2.78 GAA. Even more impressive is the fact that he has scored the second most goals of any NHL goalie this season. The bench was respectable and in a supporting role that many did not expect.

It’s simple: Kevin Lankinen has kept this Blackhawks team in more games than they deserve. If his success continues, you have to imagine Stan Bowman will do everything in his power to contract the 25-year-old long-term.

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conversion on schedule ?

While there are certainly many positives to take from this season, it’s hard to say if the rebuild will be a complete success. We may have looked at some of the redeeming qualities of Stan Bowman, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Time will tell if this team is built for long-term success or not. The team is hoping Jonathan Toews will return at some point, so maybe that will clear things up.

Much of the long-term success depends on the development of the defensive pairs. Duncan Keith can’t skate forever (maybe), and Connor Murphy needs breaks too. Players like Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell and Nikita Zadorov could play crucial roles in the coming seasons. The key to success will also be the depth of the class, which will have no shortage of candidates for the future. Brandon Hagel is a bright spot in the midfield, and newcomers like Riley Stillman, Brett Connolly and Vinny Hinostroza have the potential to be productive.

In general, it is not the case that there is only pessimism. Maybe we should just enjoy the ride. The Chicago Blackhawks seem to be on the right track, and that’s pretty cool if you ask me.

cubs

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