The Blackhawks weren’t expecting to be in this predicament with defenseman Adam Boqvist. Although young and inexperienced, Boqvist has continued to impress the Hawks, making their decision on where he’ll start the season a tough one.
The Hawks decided last week not to assign Boqvist, a 2018 first-round pick, to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League as their season began because he’s further along in his development than they anticipated.
At the draft combine, Boqvist said he was two to three years away from the NHL.
But the Hawks believe he’s closer than that.
“I think organizationally — whether we’re surprised or not — we’re happy with where [Boqvist] is,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We can see he has come a long way since we saw him at development camp or before that when we drafted him. . . . He’s made it tough on us. . . . We like his patience. And all of a sudden, it’s a different discussion than what we thought at the beginning of camp.”
But Boqvist still has areas to improve, and that was evident in the Hawks’ 8-6 preseason loss to the Red Wings on Tuesday at the United Center. Boqvist had a few bright moments, but he struggled in the Hawks’ zone.
“Defensively, there was some room to improve upon,” Quenneville said. “But he still does some things you appreciate.”
His poise on the Hawks’ power play is a bright spot. Quenneville put the 18-year-old on the Hawks’ top unit for their power-play drills during practice. Boqvist skated alongside forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz and had an assist on Schmaltz’s power-play goal.
“[Boqvist] looked like he was really comfortable out there playing with some top guys,” Quenneville said. “He has a lot of composure for a young kid in this situation, which you have to commend him on, but the games are a bigger test, so we’ll see how he handles the next couple of games.”
The Hawks made their third round of roster cuts, assigning defensemen Carl Dahlstrom and Joni Tuulola to Rockford. Their departures leave eight healthy defensemen on the Hawks’ training-camp roster as Gustav Forsling (wrist) and Connor Murphy (back) are expected to start the season on injured reserve.
Quenneville recently said that he doesn’t want his opening-night roster to feature more than 22 players. If there were 23 players on it, Quenneville said it would be because the team kept an additional forward. That means the Hawks’ seventh defenseman spot is a heated battle between Boqvist and Brandon Davidson, who is at camp on a professional tryout.
Boqvist could play nine games with the Hawks before he would burn a season off his entry-level deal, according to the league’s collective-bargaining agreement. With Forsling and Murphy out, the Hawks could see this as the perfect opportunity to give Boqvist an extended tryout without taking the risk of putting one of their defensemen on waivers.
Asked about potentially breaking camp with the Hawks, Boqvist said he isn’t paying attention to the rumors surrounding his situation. He’s just looking to make a lasting impression on the Hawks in their last preseason games.
“I try to be better every day and work on the small details and what I can be better on,” Boqvist said. “Of course, it’s tough to be here with these guys. You must deliver every day.”