Blackhawks’ injuries offer Adam Boqvist opportunity to secure full-time NHL job

With Duncan Keith and Calvin de Haan both likely out for weeks, the door is wide open for the Blackhawks’ top defensive prospect.

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Adam Boqvist could make his regular-season NHL debut during the Blackhawks’ California road trip.

Adam Boqvist #27 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck in front of T.J. Oshie #77 of the Washington Capitals during a preseason game at the United Center on September 25, 2019.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Adam Boqvist’s door to the NHL is suddenly open wider than the Arizona desert.

The Blackhawks’ top defensive prospect, even just seven games into his NHL career and one game into this current stint, can look around the depth chart and see plenty of opportunity to cement his full-time spot.

After all, with Calvin de Haan back in Chicago for the remaining two games of the road trip — and potentially out for quite a while, after re-injuring his problematic right shoulder during Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Vegas — the Hawks urgently need someone to fill vacant minutes.

Duncan Keith is expected to miss several more weeks at least with a groin injury, too. Even Olli Maatta may not return from his strange and apparently intense illness Thursday against the Coyotes.

The ‘D’ corps are unequivocally decimated at the moment, and the Hawks are desperate for stopgaps.

“The next man in’s gotta step up,” Connor Murphy said Tuesday. “As a team, you’re going to have a lot of ups and downs throughout the year and stuff like that’s going to happen, and the next guy’s got to be ready to play. We believe we have players that are good enough to make that impact and step in when there’s injuries.”

Boqvist was already that “next man in” against the Golden Knights.

He played 17:42and produced decent possession numbers, landing in the black in on-ice shot attempts (16-14, Hawks) and scoring chances (11-9, Hawks).

He also recorded two shots on goal, rang another long wrist shot —showing his quick release and accuracy from the point —off the goalpost and even enjoyed his first penalty-killing experience.

Naturally, Boqvist and fellow rookie Dennis Gilbert are the obvious candidates to slide up into the now-unoccupied minutes.

“We’re going to need them,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Tuesday. “They were good, they performed well. It’ll be good experience for them, and hopefully they give us something. I thought they did tonight.”

But this could potentially become more than a short-term NHL vacation for Boqvist. The 20-year-old Swede, whose offense proved NHL-ready but whose defense fell slightly short during his first two attempts at making the jump (in the preseason and in November), faces his best opportunity yet to lock down a full-time job.

He has already made tangible improvements. When recalled Monday, Boqvist said he and the rest of the IceHogs have “played really good down there” and that he’s felt “more comfortable” of late. That’s a significant contrast to his comments when recalled for the first time on Nov. 1, which he said came as a surprise because he “didn’t play super good down there.”

Colliton agreed with Boqvist’s assessment of his increasing acclimation, too.

“He’s done well down there,” the coach said Monday. “Reports have been good and I’ve had a chance to watch a couple games, too. He continues to get better, so hopefully that process continues.”

Boqvist also now has the aid of that first Hawks stint, highlighted by his first NHL goal, to inform his decisions about when to pinch and when to hold back.

“I know how to play now,” he said Monday. “I got six games playing with [Keith and Maatta]. They helped me a lot, as well. I know what is going on out there now.”

Ironically, it’s the absences of Keith and Maatta —plus now de Haan, too —that could vault Boqvist’s exciting young career to the next level.

The door is open. Boqvist is the man the forward-looking Hawks surely want to step through it. All he has to do is take one more stride.

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