NASHVILLE — The Blackhawks made the simplest move they could Thursday, re-assigning top defensive prospect Adam Boqvist to the AHL.
With Connor Murphy almost certain to be activated from long-term injured reserve Saturday and return to the lineup against the Predators — which would have given the Hawks eight defensemen on the active roster — general manager Stan Bowman had a few options, none of which were perfect.
Bowman could have placed Slater Koekkoek on waivers, prioritizing Boqvist’s sky-high potential over Koekkoek, a known commodity depth defenseman.
But if Koekkoek was claimed, a la Carl Dahlstrom at the end of training camp, the Hawks would have little experienced injury insurance moving forward.
And if Boqvist stayed in the NHL, he’d need to play regularly, meaning one of the other well-paid veterans would need to become the oft-scratched No. 7 defenseman. Brent Seabrook would be the obvious choice, but the Hawks want to keep him in the lineup for chemistry reasons.
Bowman could have tried to swing a trade, most likely involving Erik Gustafsson, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. But Gustafsson is only a few outings removed from the bottom point of his recent career, and dealing him now would be a sell-low mistake.
Or Bowman could have easily sent down Boqvist, who held his own in his six NHL appearances but certainly won’t be hurt by more development time in the minor leagues. So send down Boqvist he did.
That’s indicative of the approach the Hawks have broadly taken with their entourage of rookies this season.
Coach Jeremy Colliton clearly believes that load management and close instruction proves more valuable than maximum minutes and experience. Boqvist was even scratched last Saturday in Pittsburgh, despite the fact it was presumably clear to the coaching staff that his AHL reassignment was imminent.
After Wednesday’s win over the Golden Knights, Colliton spoke more about that youngster deployment strategy.
“They’re helping us win in the minutes they’re getting, but it’s important not to ask too much of them and manage the workload and allow yourself — as a staff — time to give them feedback,” he said. “It’s not a straight line upward as far as performance, but overall I think they’re all trending the right way.”
About 10 hours later, perhaps not coincidentally, Boqvist’s return to Rockford was announced.
Boqvist had two fantastic games during this first big-league stint. He scored his first NHL goal and dominated play during his second game in Anaheim, as he was on the ice for nine Hawks scoring chances versus just two Ducks chances. He had similar results Sunday against the Leafs, with an 8-2 advantage in on-ice scoring chances.
He also had some down games, as one would expect from any 19-year-old. The Canucks, for example, throttled him to the tune of a 1-8 scoring chance differential. And he was rather invisible Wednesday, too.
All in all, Boqvist exceeded expectations — albeit not dramatically — in his first run, which intriguingly coincided with the team-wide turnaround. Boqvist certainly deserves some credit for the fact the Hawks went 4-1-1 with him in the lineup.
Now he will get a chance to apply his learned lessons in the AHL, where he admitted he didn’t play very well in October. And the Hawks will maintain the freedom to slide his entry-level contract’s start to next season, although it does seem likely they’ll play Boqvist at least four more games this season and kill that slide opportunity.
Indeed, Thursday’s reassignment was clearly Bowman’s wisest option.