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Unheralded center Lucas Wallmark could have big impact on Blackhawks in 2021

The 25-year-old’s signing with the Blackhawks in October was overshadowed by Mattias Janmark, but Wallmark has always thrived outside of the spotlight.

Lucas Wallmark (No. 71, middle) is a strong defensive forward, as shown here in last season’s Blackhawks-Hurricanes game.
AP Photos

Lucas Wallmark is the forgotten man of the Blackhawks’ offseason.

Signed to a one-year contract Oct. 12 at the tail end of a surge of Hawks activity — they released Corey Crawford, traded Brandon Saad for Nikita Zadorov and signed Mattias Janmark — Wallmark had no chance of penetrating that intense news cycle. When the season finally begins, many fans may see his name and ask, “Who?”

But Wallmark could end up making a surprisingly noticeable impact.

“I want to be a solid two-way player, playing on both ends of the ice,” he said this week. “I’m a guy you can always trust on the ice. That’s what I want to bring to a team, and hopefully we can get started soon.”

Those aren’t just pleasant-sounding buzzwords. The 25-year-old center has backed them up with action in his first two seasons in the NHL.

Wallmark broke out with 28 points in 81 games with the Hurricanes in 2018-19, plus five more in 15 postseason appearances, then added 25 points in 67 games with the Canes and Panthers in 2019-20. Those point totals are respectable for a bottom-six forward, but it’s on the defensive end where Wallmark truly has excelled.

Over the last two seasons combined, he allowed opponents just 23.3 scoring chances per 60 minutes he spent on the ice. That ranked 43rd among 431 forwards leaguewide. By comparison, the Hawks’ highest-ranking forward in that statistic was Ryan Carpenter at 135th.

Most of Wallmark’s defensive prowess is in the slot — up and down the middle of the defensive zone — where advanced analytics show he drastically limits opponents’ expected goals rate.

In fact, all three of the Hawks’ notable offseason additions — Wallmark, Janmark and Zadorov — are particularly good at defending that region, likely indicating a broader goal for the Hawks moving forward.

But general manager Stan Bowman has actually kept eyes on Wallmark since his 2014 draft year.

“I remember watching him closely that year,” Bowman said this fall. “He was always such a good player, but his skating was a little step behind, so he dropped down to the fourth round. You know what? He’s one of those guys that just overcomes it. He’s not the fastest guy on your team, but he’s such a competitive kid, he’s got underrated skill, and he’s a really smart two-way player. He gives [us] a lot of options on how we want to roll our lines.”

Wallmark himself identified his skating as a weakness and has trained to improve it, including this offseason at home in Sweden.

“I’ve been working extremely hard to get faster,” he said. “I’ve been taking steps, and when you feel that, you get more confident. Sometimes you change small things if you don’t feel like that helps, but I’ve been working on that all the time.”

Unlike a multitude of other lower-tier free agents whose searches for employment have been held up by uncertainty about next season, Wallmark luckily received interest from numerous teams right away when the market opened Oct. 9.

He ultimately chose the Hawks based on conversations with Bowman and the coaching staff, plus some advice from a former Canes teammate whom Chicagoans know well: Teuvo Teravainen.

“We’re good friends outside of the rink,” Wallmark said. “He has always been saying that it’s a first-class organization and he loved the organization and the city, so it’s fun to talk about that now. He’s pumped for me to play for them.”

Now quarantining in Chicago, Wallmark plans to move into a new place this week and get ready for training camp, which reports indicate could start as soon as Jan. 3.

“You always want to be faster and stronger out there,” he said. “Hopefully that’s worked out. I feel good in my body now, so it feels good so far.”