Only three NHL defensemen under 21 have played in at least 35 games this season.
Blackhawks youngster Adam Boqvist, 20, is one of them — and it’s not even his first time. He was one of five to do so in 2019-20, playing 41 games as a 19-year-old rookie.
That stat provides important context when analyzing the first two years of Boqvist’s career, the second of which ended when he broke his right wrist against the Lightning on Tuesday.
“He’s really just getting started,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “A lot of guys [his age] aren’t even close to making their debuts, and he’s got almost 80 games.”
The Hawks believe Boqvist won’t need surgery (unlike Kirby Dach) and should be fully healthy in time for training camp next season. The break will only put a “crimp in his workout plans” rather than seriously disrupt his development, Colliton said.
That’s not to say Boqvist’s workout plans this summer aren’t important. In fact, they’re a key element in fixing a critical area of weakness: his stamina. Colliton has repeatedly discussed Boqvist’s need to improve in that regard.
“[It] takes time to learn how hard you have to train and what kind of condition you need to be in to defend at a high level,” Colliton said. “When he’s playing on the power play, a lot of times he’s going to play a 40-second shift, and then we want him to go right back out and play 1:10. So there’s a different level of conditioning that he needs to get to.
“You want to be able to be 50 seconds into your shift and get a stop, and then be able to skate the puck out of trouble. That’s the type of fitness we need.”
Boqvist’s minutes per game increased from 16:13 last season to 17:43 (excluding two games he left early) mainly because he became the staple defenseman on the team’s first power-play unit.
He had 16 points (two goals, 14 assists), up from 13 last season. At even strength, his underlying stats were nearly identical to last season: His shot ratio ticked up from 48.2% to 49.0%; his scoring-chance ratio ticked down from 49.1% to 49.0%.
But Boqvist looked more confident, assertive and seasoned this year.
He learned how to read NHL plays, identifying where the puck was going to go — rather than where it was at the time — and positioning himself in the correct spot to disrupt it. And he realized he could defend better one-on-one if he focused on footwork and stick movement rather than body -contact.
“From last year, I’ve been better overall out there,” Boqvist said in late March. “I feel comfortable. And obviously when the coaches trust you, it makes you more -confident.”
Colliton indeed trusted him more.
“Both offensively and defensively, [he improved],” Colliton said. “He’s done a good job of using his legs to get body position, get stops in the defensive zone, close quicker, and that’s allowed him to be more dynamic offensively. . . . He’s building confidence on the offensive blue line. I still think he has more to give there when you look at what he can do.”
His season unfortunately was dotted with absences. He missed 11 games recovering from COVID-19 and three more in -concussion protocol and will miss the last eight with the broken wrist.
None of those things was within his control, but his ability (when healthy) to handle a big role without fatiguing is. The Hawks hope he’ll master that before his third year.
“[He’ll] get an early start on his summer, and it’s not going to be perfect as far as training goes, but he can definitely . . . focus on his conditioning,” Colliton said. “We’re excited about what that transformation might mean for his game next season.”