After a season of working on improving his speed, Blackhawks forward MacKenzie Entwistle enjoyed a validating moment Thursday.
Midway through the first period against the Hurricanes, Entwistle saw a counterattacking opportunity, took a pass from teammate Vinnie Hinostroza and blew past defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Brady Skjei, creating a breakaway from the red line in.
‘‘It’s a little easier to try to get that breakaway speed when you know there’s just you and the goalie,’’ a smiling Entwistle said Saturday. ‘‘But that was definitely a moment where I could see my skating’s not the issue.’’
He enjoyed an even more validating moment Sunday, scoring his first NHL goal in the Hawks’ 4-2 victory against the Stars.
Entwistle, 21, long has embraced his future as a third- or fourth-line grinder at the NHL level — ‘‘Not everyone can be the [Patrick] Kanes and the [Dominik] Kubaliks,’’ he said in March — but modern hockey requires athleticism, quickness and offensive input even from those types.
In making three appearances over the past week with the Hawks after previously playing only six minutes in the NHL, Entwistle demonstrated those elements to his game.
‘‘I’m very, very pleased with his progression,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘He got in the one game earlier in the season, but even since then he’s taken another step. His physical attributes, his conditioning, look more to the level he needs to be at. He’s got more work to do, but his skating has really improved.’’
‘‘Especially being a bigger guy [6-3], my first three steps have gotten better and improved since my first year of pro [hockey],’’ Entwistle said.
Making Entwistle’s season even more impressive is that he has improved while also regaining the 10 pounds he lost during a severe COVID-19 case in January. He said his body is ‘‘back to being 100%,’’ thanks to extra meals, protein shakes and targeted workouts.
Dach learned from 18 games
Second-year center Kirby Dach’s 2021 season was limited to 18 games after he missed the Hawks’ first 34 while recovering from wrist surgery and their last four after experiencing ‘‘post-operative discomfort’’ with scar tissue.
But Colliton said he thinks the 18 games were valuable for Dach, as he said they would be all along.
‘‘It was good for him to play, even if it wasn’t easy,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘Getting in these games and being challenged — and they were important games, and we were right in the mix — he’ll take that with him. Hopefully [he’ll] have an excellent summer of training and be better than ever come fall.’’
Dach finished with two goals and eight assists while averaging 18:34 of ice time. He increased his even-strength scoring rate from last season, even if he wasn’t as dominant as hoped.
Dach’s comfort level seemed to increase over time. The Hawks can point to his performance April 29 as a prime example. Colliton matched him against the Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov, and Dach largely shut him down. The Panthers had only one shot on goal and the Hawks scored the lone goal while Dach and Barkov were on the ice together.
Dach’s integration into the penalty kill was a major positive, too. He played 23:21 on the penalty kill this season and had the third-best penalty-kill scoring-chance ratio on the team. He and wing Alex DeBrincat added a dynamic new look to jump-start the penalty kill’s turnaround in the second half of the season.
‘‘It makes [the power play] uncomfortable,’’ Colliton said April 27. ‘‘Maybe [you] don’t make that tight play at the blue line because you know [you’re facing] a long stick with great instincts in a guy like Kirby. [With DeBrincat’s] quickness, he can jump on it and create a two-on-one.’’