The Blackhawks’ first two forward call-ups this season — Matthew Highmore and Anton Wedin — are reliable bottom-six grinders, but their potential caps out at that.
The Hawks’ third forward call-up — Dylan Sikura, promoted Sunday from the AHL — brings more skill and a much higher ceiling.
But Sikura, a 166-pound featherweight, doesn’t have the right body or playing style to ever stick in the NHL as a third-line defensive specialist or fourth-line scrapper.
For him to carve out and maintain a full-time roster spot with the Hawks, he’ll have to prove he can produce offense at a solid rate.
“This time around, [I want to] just prove that I can play, I can stay, be an every-day kind of guy up here,” Sikura said. “There’s times last year — toward the end of the year — where I was proving myself a little bit, and I’m excited to get a fresh start and another chance.”
Sikura played 33 games in 2018-19 for the Hawks and infamously failed to score, despite stellar performance in virtually every other regard.
The winger spent a lot of time with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad on his second call-up and finished with the highest Corsi rating (55.4 percent) and scoring-chance ratio (53.2 percent) on the team. Yet he tallied only eight assists.
He’s hoping to get the first-goal subject out of the way quickly this month.
“That’s something that’s important for me — down there [in Rockford], I get a chance ... to score goals,” he said. “Obviously that’s something I’d like to do at this level, so hopefully we can put this to rest soon.”
Sikura has scored goals aplenty with the IceHogs. He leads the team with nine goals and 16 points in 22 games, and he scored 17 goals and 35 points in 46 games last season.
But while the Northeastern product has more than enough talent to score from virtually anywhere in the minor leagues, he needs to get to more high-probability areas — in front of the net and in the slot — to do the same in the NHL.
And that has been an issue for him. He was quiet in the preseason and ultimately assigned to the AHL to start the year, despite many offseason predictions to the contrary, because of that inability to translate his productive habits.
So Sikura will need to generate tangible results to prove he can reach his lofty potential.
Highmore and Wedin’s call-ups before him demonstrated Sikura’s tenuous, perhaps slipping position at the top of the Hawks’ forward-prospect hierarchy.
Although Sikura likely will play at least a few games on this NHL stint, he’s definitely not guaranteed another stretch of 22 uninterrupted appearances if he doesn’t start scoring.
Coach Jeremy Colliton slotted Sikura on a new and somewhat strange line with David Kampf and Alex Nylander for the game Sunday against the Coyotes. He said he had a clear blueprint in mind for what Sikura would need to do to stick around.
“More of what he did last year, more consistently,” Colliton said. “He showed that he can contribute with us with his pace of play. When I looked back [at] him, Toews and Saad, they had a really good stretch where they were driving possession and giving us offensive zone time, and that line came through with some production, too.”
“But it’s not unlike a lot of young players, just finding a way to do it every single shift every single night. We’re looking for that throughout our lineup, so if he can bring it, that’ll help him.”