After just six games, defenseman Riley Stillman has impressed the Blackhawks enough to earn a long-term contract.
The Hawks on Sunday signed Stillman, 23, to a three-year extension with a $1.35 million cap hit that theoretically will keep him in Chicago through 2024.
“Having a young, physical defenseman like Riley in the fold is exciting for the future of our team,” general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. “He is growing into an excellent all-around defenseman, and that continued development is something we look forward to seeing firsthand. We love his size, and his toughness adds another piece to our defense.”
The former Panthers prospect, acquired in the trade this month that included Henrik Borgstrom and Brett Connolly, has averaged 16:43 of ice time with the Hawks, up from 10:43 in his eight games with the Panthers this season.
Stillman, who was set to be a restricted free agent this summer, said Sunday he wanted to get contract negotiations out of the way as early as possible in order to focus on improving his game and integrating with the team.
“It’s great to come into an organization that believes in me and wants me to be here,” he said. “From what I’ve seen here the last two weeks, I love the city of Chicago, the organization all the way through is top notch and I’m really excited to be here.”
His physical play and conservative style are relative rarities in the Hawks’ defensive corps, but his extension potentially spells bad news for the team’s one other defenseman with a similar style: Nikita Zadorov. He’s now the Hawks’ only defenseman with an expiring contract this summer, although he’ll be a restricted free agent.
Stillman hasn’t produced the most impressive statistics through his tiny sample size since the trade, with a 47.3% shot-attempt ratio and 40.2% scoring-chance ratio at even strength. Zadorov is at 46.7% and 44.9%, respectively, this season.
But Stillman brings the same intimidating physicality that Zadorov hangs his hat on. He has been credited with 16 hits through six games, a rate (2.7 per game) only slightly behind Zadorov (3.4).
And so far, Stillman largely has been able to avoid the costly, inexcusable turnovers that have marred Zadorov’s first season in Chicago. Zadorov has averaged 5.3 failed defensive-zone exits per 60 minutes, per analyst Corey Sznajder’s data. Only a handful of other NHL defensemen are worse, and Stillman isn’t one of them.
Nothing is set in stone, but Stillman’s extension increases the odds that Zadorov’s RFA rights are traded this summer.
Bowman considered offers for Zadorov at the trade deadline but asked a higher price than any suitors would meet. Lowering the price and moving Zadorov in July would represent waving the white flag on the much criticized Brandon Saad trade with the Avalanche last October.
The rest of the Hawks’ defense largely looks cemented for next season, with the exception of Calvin de Haan, who might be lost in the expansion draft. Veterans Connor Murphy and Duncan Keith and youngsters Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nicolas Beaudin and Stillman should be back.
That stability and youth seemed to appeal to Stillman.
“To come into a young group and have an opportunity to grow and develop and get better alongside those guys, especially on the back end, is really exciting,” he said. “[I’m excited] to see what this team can do in the future.”