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Tyler Sikura extension a reminder of Blackhawks’ most pressing issue

There won’t be much for Blackhawks fans to look forward to down the stretch this season, but the re-signing of Tyler Sikura to a one-year NHL contract Tuesday was a good reminder of the team’s most immediate problem. Pretty soon, we’ll know whether or not Tyler’s younger brother, Dylan, has signed an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks or decided to pursue free agency.

The situation surrounding the younger Sikura has become one of the most important stories to watch for the Blackhawks as this season winds down. The former sixth-round pick emerged as one of the best players in college hockey over his last two seasons at Northeastern, where he’s recorded 105 points in just 69 games.

The higher profile has made the Blackhawks excited about bringing Sikura into the fold as soon as possible, but the prospect of free agency stands between the two sides. As a four-year college player this spring, he’ll be able to freely pick his first NHL team if he waits until mid-August. Players such as Jimmy Vesey and Will Butcher have shown us the feeding frenzy that gathers when a good prospect is on the market for nothing more than an ELC.

So the Blackhawks have done everything in their power to convince Sikura to sign in Chicago, including giving his older brother an AHL contract last year around the same time they offered him an NHL deal. It’s far from the first time that an NHL team has thrown a bone to a player’s sibling in order curry their favor, but we still don’t know whether it will work.

Signing Dylan Sikura is a must for the Blackhawks this spring. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

To Tyler’s credit, he has surpassed the expectations of a non-prospect signed primarily as a result of nepotism. The former ECHL forward has racked up 16 goals in 57 games with Rockford, which is second on the team behind current Blackhawks forward Matthew Highmore. He’s earned his spot regardless of how he got it in the first place, and seems happy to be here.

Still, his presence in the organization, more than anything, is about trying to bring his brother into the fold. The AHL production is an added bonus. The real prize here is making sure that the younger Sikura, who could become a productive NHL forward in short order, doesn’t leave later this year.

The Blackhawks, by all accounts, have maintained a public confidence that a deal will get done. The re-signing of Dylan’s brother Tuesday seems like the latest example of the team’s anticipation that their relationship will last beyond the next few months.

The Blackhawks may have one clear advantage in their quest to sign Sikura. Assuming Northeastern doesn’t make a deep run to the Frozen Four, the Blackhawks will be able to offer a two-year ELC where the first season is burned this spring. That would allow Sikura to hit restricted free agency after the 2018-19 season, which would position him for a raise beyond his ELC-limited salary as soon as possible.

The contract would also likely require maximum performance-based bonuses, which the Blackhawks would likely be happy to pay out if he played well, just like with Artemi Panarin. Every team can offer max bonuses, though.

That’s why moves like re-signing Tyler Sikura are important, and show the Blackhawks’ ongoing effort to make sure that one of their top prospects doesn’t sign elsewhere. There’s only so much they can do to make their contract offer more appealing than other teams, so it’ll have to be everything else that convinces him to sign. A small move Tuesday was the latest example of that.