The start of the 2021 NHL season for the Blackhawks was bleak.
The team lost Captain Jonathan Toews and boy-wonder Kirby Dach before the first puck drop of the year, and had no obvious answer in net after the departures of Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford. With all of those battles, plus a defense that was still going to allow an exorbitant amount of shots, Chicago had quite the hill to climb to find success this season.
But refreshingly, they fought their way out of an early season hole – largely on the backs of young and inexperienced players – to find themselves with a 4-4-4 record through the first 12 games. Anyone watching, knows that several rookies have stepped up to help the Blackhawks get to this point in the season, but among the most notable performances in that group you’ll find (1) Kevin Lankinen, (2) Pius Suter, and (3) Philipp Kurashev.
Without the breakout performances from these three players in the first 12 games of this season, Chicago would be right in line with the Red Wings and Senators for the bottom spot in the league. So let’s show them a little love, shall we?
As I mentioned, the defense is still allowing a crazy amount of shots on net this season, ranking 25th in Corsi-For percentage (47.58), while allowing the second-most shots on goal so far (410) – only the Vancouver Canucks have allowed more shots on goal this year (505), but they’ve played two more games than Chicago, so … Yeah. Not great. And as if all of that weren’t enough, the Blackhawks also rank 25th in the league in High-Danger Chances against (136).
But working in their favor is a .910 team save percentage and a 1.003 PDO (Team shooting + team save percentage). And much of that success is due to the surprising, but welcomed emergence of Kevin Lankinen.
The Blackhawks have points in eight of their 12 games this season, and all eight points came in their last nine games. Can you guess who made all eight of his starts this season in those nine games? That’s right, Lankinen (going 4-1-3). And his success isn’t just good relative to really low expectations. He actually stacks up pretty well throughout the league.
Among 37 NHL goalies that have played at least 270 minutes this season, here’s how Lankinen ranks according to Natural Stat Trick:
• Shots against: 265 (6th)
• High-Danger shots against: 76 (4th)
• Average shot distance: 32.27 feet (5th)
• Save percentage: .928 (6th)
• Goals Against Average: 2.32 (8th)
• High-Danger save percentage: .855 (8th)
• Goals Saved Above Average: 6.46 (3rd)
That’s not all.
Lankinen is one of four rookie goalies to play at least 270 minutes this season, and he leads all of them in save percentage, GAA, and High-Danger Shots against. He ranks second in rookie goalies for shots against and high-danger save percentage.
The top rookie goalie this season is between him and Washington Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek, who has five wins this season to Lankinen’s four. Not to shabby, eh?
Moving to Suter and Kurashev, the Blackhawks rookies rank in a tie for the league lead in rookie goal scoring, each with four goals a piece.
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) January 20, 2021
Suter’s seven points this season is good enough to tie for third-place among rookies, while Kurahsev’s six points set him in a tie with Ottawa’s Tim Stützle for fourth. Suter ranks fourth among rookies in even-strength points with five this season, and both are tied for second amongst rookie in powerplay points with two each this season.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) February 1, 2021
There has been a lot to love about all three of their performances this season, but Lankinen’s emergence as the Blackhawks starter after beginning the year as their No. 3 option and the way he has carried himself through the first 12 games of the season has to put him among the league-leaders for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
If Kurashev and Suter continue their scoring ways, they could find themselves rightly in the mix among Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, New Jersey’s Ty Smith, and Ottawa’s Stützle for the top rookie honor. All of it would benefit Chicago and make the vision for the future all the brighter.