When I was 17 years old, I was driving to run an errand for my parents after school. I had my driver’s license for just about a year at this point and had a good grasp of the roadways in my hometown. Driving down Roosevelt Road in Kenosha on a Thursday afternoon, there was moderate traffic, but nothing you would think twice about. I knew what I was doing and where I was going. I had aviator sunglasses on because it was a sunny day in March and I was a cool guy who wore cool guy shades. I had the radio loud and was vibing out to Foo Fighters…or was it Nirvana?
Can’t remember, not important.
I was feeling good, young, care free wheeling and dealing, and that is when I was rear ended making a right turn. The radio shut off, my sunglasses fell into my lap and my heart jumped out of my chest. I had made a right turn from the center lane of traffic and did not see a van in my blind spot as I made the move. I was slammed into, but luckily both cars were not damaged extensively and the other driver and myself were unharmed.
Why am I telling this story?
Well, it equates to what Adam Boqvist‘s career feels like at this moment in time. He has all the confidence in the world on the ice, and has immense talent with the puck on his stick. He is currently vibing out. As is much of the Chicago Blackhawks’ fan community on his skills and the highlights he has provided this summer through prospect camp, Traverse City and his action with the Blackhawks during the preseason.
All for good reason, too. Boqvist possesses tremendous offensive talent as a defensman. At just 19 years old, his skillset is enviable by a larger portion of NHL players at his position. But like myself driving down Roosevelt Road and the van in my blind spot, Boqvist has much more to learn about the NHL game, what it takes to succeed through his development and come out with all of your important parts in one piece. I had much to learn about driving responsibly.
Blackhawks first practice group
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) September 19, 2019
After the opening three games of the Blackhawks preseason, head coach Jeremy Colliton worked with the training camp roster in two groups and Boqvist was listed in the above group, populated entirely with players one would safely assume were going to the Rockford IceHogs. Just mere hours after providing the highlight of the night at the United Center against the Detroit Red Wings/Grand Rapids Griffins, Boqvist was placed with the minor leaguers.
And that is where he needs to be.
Return on investment
The Blackhawks defensive group heading into the 2019–20 season is pretty much locked up. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Olli Maatta, Erik Gustafsson, Connor Murphy, Slater Koekkoek, Carl Dahlstrom and a now nearly healthy Calvin de Haan leave very little wiggle room on the blue line. None of the eight players here are waivers exempt and that makes it a difficult decision to roll the dice on leaving Boqvist with the NHL club. The Blackhawks made the decision to leave Boqvist behind, for the time being, with the Rockford IceHogs. Has he shown enough to knock any of those players out of contention for their spot? Offensively, yes, but as a whole, his game and himself still need development time.
Just casually watching this play until the end of time 🍿 pic.twitter.com/Yh9gmec4uk
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) September 19, 2019
It is in the best interest for the Blackhawks on their investment in Boqvist as the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to make sure he is physically and mentally ready to play a full 82 game schedule in the NHL and play heavy minutes. It is more than likely that once Boqvist does stick with the Blackhawks in the NHL lineup, he will be relied on to play near or above the 20 minute threshold and see time on special teams with the power play units. With Gustafsson on the final year of his current contract and well more than likely expecting a raise this offseason, the Blackhawks could very well save a ton of money and not lose any production from letting Gustafsson go if Boqvist is ready to take his place, and then some, at the NHL level.
Could he do it now, making the jump from playing in the OHL with the London Knights to the NHL full time? Perhaps. Would it go well? That is still a crapshoot.
His size benefits him in certain aspects of his game, like his mobility with the puck on his stick. But it also is a concern in the bigger, faster world of the NHL. Boqvist has dealt with concussions in his past and the game is much different when men are flying around at 20 miles per hour on the ice. It is something he can learn at the AHL level.
While the AHL and NHL are different speeds themselves, the AHL still provides an environment where Boqvist can adjust to the professional game speed playing against older, more experienced competition. He will need to learn to avoid the unnecessary contact as well as give his body time to catch up to his skill development and be able to endured the next level of physicality in the game.
Get the ‘junior’ out of him
There is no crystal ball to see just how long Boqvist would need before he becomes the NHL ready defenseman the Blackhawks want him to be, but the tools are there. Offensively, one cannot rave about Boqvist enough. Defensively though, the same cannot be said. He has been spotty when it comes to his defensive responsibilities this summer, but working with Brain Campbell this past year in London did a lot to help him develop his game in his own end and it showed on the ice. The improvements are there, but they are not there consistently. He will always be the offense first threat from the blue line, but he cannot be all gas all the time for the Blackhawks. They already had that experience with Gustafsson last season and while it provided a spark offensively, the risk reward aspect of a player like that ultimately ends up burning you too often.
Chicago needs Boqvist to do the burning against the opposition, not his own defensive partner. Time will tell on his development, but Colliton and IceHogs head coach Derek King have raved enough about Boqvist to know what they have in the Swedish prospect.
The comment coming from my discussion with King last month continues to stick out when watching Boqvist play: “You have to get the ‘junior’ out of him.”
It could be a year, it could be two years, it could be two months. Whatever the timeline ends up being for Boqvist on his development stage, the Blackhawks must know they cannot rush him. What helps is the position defensively that they put themselves in heading into this season after a dismal 2018–19 campaign. The offseason moves bought Chicago time on Boqvist and it could very well pay off royally for the next decade or so. At least that is the hope.