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Every Wednesday throughout the offseason, the CHGO Blackhawks crew will give their evaluations of the 2021-22 Blackhawks. We’ll be using our “feather system.” Four feathers = an A, three feathers = a B, and so on.
This week, we’re reviewing the seasons of forward Dylan Strome and defenseman Riley Stillman.
Dylan Strome Analysis
Jay Zawaski: It feels like Dylan Strome was part of every bit of Blackhawks news as the 2021-22 season went on. From not being able to get in the good graces of Jeremy Colliton, to a fresh start then slight detour under Derek King, then a sudden resurgence towards the end of the season, it was a roller coaster season for the Blackhawks 25-year-old center. Once he found his place in King’s lineup, he thrived. Yes, playing with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat helped, but it can’t be denied that everyone on that line played their best hockey when they were together as a trio.
My only criticism of Strome is that he has yet to find the consistency he should be able to find at this point of his career. That said, I think with a more stable situation, he will. It remains to be seen whether or not the Blackhawks will opt to bring him back. Let me go on record as saying they absolutely should. He’s earned another opportunity to show he can be the player he was late this season. Letting him walk and watching him figure it out elsewhere would be a large misstep from Kyle Davidson.
Mario Tirabassi: Strome was a different player when Colliton was replaced by King. Strome was being scratched and underutilized prior to the coaching change in Chicago. While the start to King’s tenure with Chicago and his usage of Strome was rocky, once he was put in the proper position (a top-six role) and playing third-fiddle on a line with DeBrincat and Kane, Strome flourished.
We talk about how much confidence can impact a player. Strome’s confidence was rebuilt by the mid-way point of this season and his career-high output and rounding of his game we’re much- needed factors to his development as a solidified NHL centerman.
Greg Boysen: The plight of Strome has been well documented this season. He went from not having a roster spot in training camp to scoring a career-high 22 goals while centering the Blackhawks’ best line. King preached all season that Strome needed to be better without the puck to stay in the lineup. His career-high 47 takeaways showed that he got the message. He also had a 52.3 faceoff percentage (FO%), another new high-water mark in his young career. He entered the season with a career average under 48%. These two stats showed me that Strome was committed to putting in the work to become a better all-around player. My grade is not just based on his performance but also a comparison of my preseason expectations for him to where he finished the year. Considering I had no expectations of him under Colliton, he gets a high mark.
Riley Stillman Analysis
Jay: When the Blackhawks traded for Henrik Borgstrom and Riley Stillman during the 2020-21 season, Stillman came in and turned some heads. He announced his arrival with physical play and tenacity and seemed primed to be a big piece of the Blackhawks’ future.
This season, Stillman didn’t seem like the same player. Even before his shoulder injury, he played a more tentative style of hockey. There were times he looked lost in the defensive zone, and the physical element of his game fell by the wayside. That can be excused coming off an injury. No one wants to lay a check when their shoulder isn’t 100%. It’s totally understandable. But the physicality was lacking all season. Perhaps Stillman was dealing with an injury all long, but we can only write about things we’re aware of.
I still have hope that he’ll develop into a permanent role next season. I just hope he enters camp at 100%. I’m sure he does, as well.
Mario: Injuries played a factor in Stillman having a down year. One of the best parts of his game is the physical factor he plays on the ice. He didn’t have that edge after busting-up his shoulder. Stillman remains a young, cheap bottom-pair defenseman, but maybe that is all he can be? With the coming influx of talented defensemen in the Chicago system, Stillman is in danger of being lost in the shuffle.
Greg: Stillman had a real chance to solidify his spot on this roster this past season. It looked like he was doing just that for a while, but by the time the 2021-22 season came an end, we were at the same place we were when it started; not quite knowing what the young blueliner’s future is. He set new career-highs with 122 hits and 67 blocked shots. That is the element of his game he needs to excel at to stay in the NHL. However, he suffered a shoulder injury on Jan. 21 that kept him out until March 3, and that physical aspect was never the same. There were still too many times, especially late in the season, that he got caught in his own end for long periods of time and looked like he was skating into a blender. He will have a spot on the opening night roster, but as more of the team’s young defensemen come up, he will need to improve if he wants to be part of the long-term plans.
Stay tuned to the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast for more player evaluations as the offseason grinds on.
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