Blackhawks winger Dylan Sikura eager to shed ‘prospect’ label for good
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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Dylan Sikura doesn’t exactly bristle at the thought of being called a prospect, but he doesn’t exactly feel like one anymore, either.
Not after getting into five games with the Blackhawks in the wake of a dominant senior season at Northeastern. Not at age 23. Not while he’s being penciled in by most as a top-nine player for the Hawks this season.
So if he’s not a prospect, then is he a bona fide NHL player already?
‘‘I’m kind of stuck in between,’’ Sikura said, chuckling. ‘‘It’s a little weird. I went to a bunch of ‘prospect’ things this summer and you kind of get treated like that, but I’ve only played five games. So I guess until I make the team and play a full year, I am still a prospect. I’ll take what I can get.’’
Sikura is one of the more accomplished players this week in Traverse City, and he’s hoping the eight-team prospect tournament can springboard him into training camp the way it did for Alex DeBrincat last year. Like DeBrincat, Sikura is clearly one of the better players in the tournament, and he made his presence felt frequently with a goal — a one-timer from the right circle off a pass from Nicolas Beaudin — and an assist in the opener Friday.
That’s what he came here to do.
‘‘Just play my game out there and try to be the best player I can be and try to dominate out here,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, it’s going to be tough. You’re going to be targeted out here, not a lot of space. But I think [it’s about] improving and getting back into game form going into camp and being ready to go.’’
Rockford coach Jeremy Colliton, who is leading the Hawks’ prospects in the tournament, made a point of putting Sikura with other skilled players — center Dominik Kahun, who could compete for a roster spot out of camp, and speedy winger Alexandre Fortin — to maximize his ability.
Not every shift was perfect — a turnover by Sikura at the blue line led to a scoring chance the other way — but the trio often looked like three borderline NHL players competing against a bunch of kids, which, essentially, they are.
‘‘I think they can do more,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘I think they can take over more. More of those shifts can be dominant.’’
During his brief stint with the Hawks at the end of last season, Sikura showed flashes of the vision and playmaking ability that made him one of the best players in college hockey. In his NHL debut — a milestone that was overshadowed by Brent Seabrook’s 1,000th game and the unforgettable seven-save performance of emergency goalie Scott Foster — Sikura triggered a breakaway goal by Erik Gustafsson with a crafty one-touch pass to DeBrincat as Gustafsson broke for open ice.
That kind of vision is why he’s all but locked in as a top-nine winger for the Hawks this season. And with an open spot on Patrick Kane’s line or Jonathan Toews’ line, depending on where coach Joel Quenneville slots Brandon Saad, Sikura might be stepping into a dream scenario right away.
‘‘Everyone trying to make the team — or everyone on the team that’s trying to push up — is looking at those spots and those openings in the roster,’’ Sikura said. ‘‘I’m obviously going to use that as motivation.’’
Sikura, like Kane, is a winger who tends to dominate the puck, carrying it up the ice and setting up shop in the offensive zone, looking for a play to make. The trick will be playing to his strengths without deferring to his more accomplished elders, something every young player has to learn along the way.
‘‘I like having the puck; I like making plays,’’ Sikura said. ‘‘And when I don’t have the puck, I want to get it back.
‘‘When I was in college, it was a bit of the same, where I felt like I had the puck the whole shift. But that’s a good thing. If I’m not playing defense and I have the puck, I’ll take it.’’