In a season that has seen a number of positive developments arise in areas we didn’t necessarily anticipate, one obvious concern is the lack of progress from defenseman Adam Boqvist.
Granted, Boqvist has missed the past two weeks of the season due to COVID-19, but even before his absence, the trending direction of his performance was not encouraging. Now that he’s healthy and being re-introduced to the active roster, the question is begged: What are they going to do with him?
Option 1: Get Right Back on the Horse
The first option would be to throw him back into the lineup when he is back to full health.
It’s likely he’ll still take a few games off to get his NHL legs back under him, given that he JUST HAD COVID, but that’d be the general idea.
Adam Boqvist on having COVID-19: "I was surprised. I follow all the rules, I wear my mask, stay at the house and go to the rink. I was surprised. But I felt pretty good. I just lost my taste and smell, that's it."
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 12, 2021
Through the first six games of the season, Boqvist was playing just under 16 minutes per night. He was a staple on the powerplay, netting two of his three 2021 assists on the man-advantage. But his short-comings in his own defensive end have hurt his value to Chicago.
With Boqvist out, rookies Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin have stepped up and looked considerably better than Boqvist on the defensive end of the ice. And with Beaudin taking Boqvist’s spot on the powerplay (and looking competent), I’d find it hard for head coach Jeremy Colliton to take out either out at this point in time.
Adam Boqvist on the past few week's experience: "It was kind of painful to sit, do nothing, watch the game, can't be out there playing with them."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) February 12, 2021
Option 2: Wait in the Wings
Another option is to sit him as he regains his conditioning, but with the intent that he’ll have to be a replacement option if a player goes down with an injury or illness. Though, that option probably does the most harm to Boqvist, long-term.
Sitting and watching and practicing (but not playing) in the games that matter can do a lot of harm to a player’s psyche. They get out of their rhythms and have a tougher time being able to jump right into games at full speed after long layoffs.
Right now, the Blackhawks need Boqvist learning and developing his game. No, he hasn’t yet taken the kinds of strides that we have been expecting/hoping to see, but he certainly won’t do it sitting in the press box.
Adam Boqvist: "COVID is nothing you joke around with because it could be very bad. I'm happy I didn't get some bad symptoms." #Blackhawks
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) February 12, 2021
Option 3: Hit the Bus…
The other option is to send him to the Rockford IceHogs and play in the AHL. He’ll be getting time, and he’ll be able to do it in much lower-stakes games. A lot of the sentiment around the AHL season this year is that it is being treated like an extended training and development camp. The IceHogs are FULL of rookies and inexperienced players. With Boqvist going down with his AHL and NHL experience combined, he’d be one of the more veteran players on the roster at just 20-years-old.
The IceHogs (and head coach Derek King) have done a considerable job developing players for the Blackhawks in the past two seasons. Henri Jokiharju, Nicolas Beaudin, Kevin Lankinen, Collin Delia, David Kämpf, Matthew Highmore, Philipp Kurashev, and Brandon Hagel have all come through the AHL system under King and Colliton and have turned into viable NHL prospects.
The problem with sending him to the AHL comes with how he responds to it. After playing in the AHL once already in his career and being called up to play a significant role in the NHL, it’s hard for a player to have to go back down to the minors. But, this might actually be the best route for Boqvist. Defensemen take time to develop, and just because he isn’t the Blackhawks No. 1 defenseman already, doesn’t mean his ability to possibly turn into that is out the window.
He’s still very young and his ceiling is still high. The hope is for the former eighth-overall pick to have his game come full circle and not turn into another offense-only defenseman that you cannot trust with heavy minutes. We already had Erik Gustafsson once, we don’t need another trip around that block.