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Adam Boqvist’s accelerating development a bright spot in Blackhawks’ downturn

Boqvist’s defensive play and confidence have improved this season, his second in the NHL, and his playing time has increased lately as a result.

Adam Boqvist’s playing time for the Blackhawks has increased lately.
Adam Boqvist’s playing time for the Blackhawks has increased lately.
Matt Marton/AP

The Blackhawks’ play has been so poor in recent weeks that it has been difficult for some of the team to stay positive.

But Adam Boqvist’s jovial, fun-loving personality has proven immune to discouragement.

“I’m always having a smile on my face when I come into the locker room,” Boqvist said Tuesday. “I feel like everyone is happy. We’re in a great position right now. We’re not 10 points behind the playoffs. We’re in the race and it’s fun. We have to enjoy the moment.”

That perspective on the season’s stretch run, especially considering the Hawks’ youth, is important to keep in mind. The fact the team is contending at all is a surprise; they should indeed try to enjoy and make the most of it.

Boqvist is certainly doing that personally.

The 20-year-old Swedish defenseman has been one of the Hawks’ few bright spots in March. His development curve — frustratingly slow and jagged during his rookie season — has greatly accelerated in his second season.

Coach Jeremy Colliton carried on for several minutes Tuesday with his praise for Boqvist.

“He’s doing a really good job of getting body position and putting himself in a position to get stops, to win loose pucks, to defend by working to stay on the [defensive] side [of opposing players] and using his skating to get through hands,” Colliton said. “When he does that, it creates opportunities for him to make plays in transition, and that’s where we think he’s really strong.

“Obviously there’s more there, but he’s improved a lot. With that confidence on the defensive side, it’s really helped his offensive game, too, because he’s comfortable. He’s got some swagger to him. He’s made a lot of plays for quite a long stretch of games here.”

The Hawks are 3-5-0 with a 45.2% on-ice shot attempt ratio in their last seven games, but Boqvist’s results are the opposite: he has an on-ice shot attempt differential above at least 43% in all eight games and above 50% in five.

Boqvist’s defensive improvement has been noticeable beyond statistics, too.

He has learned how to neutralize NHL-caliber players and read NHL-level plays, identifying where the puck will go — rather than where it currently is — and positioning himself in the correct spot to disrupt it. He memorably broke up several two-on-one rushes in the Stars and Lightning series.

His offseason decision to switch his defensive tactics and emphasize positioning and stick usage rather than body contact when engaging opponents has also helped.

There have been some hiccups, such as when he left the front of the net and still allowed a centering pass to get through for the Predators’ first goal Saturday.

But every Hawks defenseman has made mistakes — Boqvist at least has committed fewer than most. His on-ice scoring chance ratio this season is actually best among all Hawks defensemen by a significant margin.

On the offensive end, Boqvist may not yet be the dynamic playmaker some expected, but he’s making more and more crafty plays.

And Colliton wasn’t kidding about that blossoming swagger.

“From last year, I’ve been better overall out there,” Boqvist said. “I feel comfortable. And obviously when the coaches trust you, it makes you more confident. You want to be out there when the game is on the line. You want to be the guy.”

The coaching staff’s faith in Boqvist has manifested in his playing time. After averaging 16:13 of ice time per game as a rookie, then 16:39 through his first 19 games this season, Boqvist has handled almost 20 minutes per game over his last seven appearances — including 23:08 on March 20 and 21:56 on Sunday.

All the while, Boqvist’s optimism continues to push him forward.

“I come to the rink and [aim to] be one day better, not one day older,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working.”