The Chicago Blackhawks went into the 2021 season without a legitimate starting goaltender at the NHL level. They came out of the 2021 season … basically in the same position.
Kevin Lankinen emerged as a solid NHL-caliber goaltender in his rookie season, but he wasn’t able to keep his hot start to the season going all year long. Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia performed at the level you would have expected out of them, but neither fully took the reins as a long-term solution (as a starter or backup) for the organization. With all three goalies signed through the end of next season, it appears that the trio will again be called upon for one of them to fully take hold of the starter role next season.
Bowman is still noncommittal (at least publicly) about declaring Lankinen the Blackhawks' goalie of the future: "I think Kevin took the biggest step forward, but I don’t think any of them (Subban, Delia) took a step backward."
— Phillip Thompson (@_phil_thompson) May 12, 2021
Here’s where the three ended the season with their stat-lines:
• Kevin Lankinen: 17-4-5, .909 save-percentage, 3.02 GAA, 2 shutouts
• Malcolm Subban: 6-8-1, .900 save-percentage, 3.20 GAA, 2 shutouts
• Collin Delia: 1-3-1, .902 save-percentage, 3.59 GAA
Chicago was one of four teams this season to have three goalies make at least five appearances and finish the year with save-percentages at .900 or better. The other three teams were the Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, and Carolina Hurricanes. It’s a fun stat, but it kind of means nothing in the grand scheme of things.
The organizational depth of the position doesn’t make things much better. Lankinen, Subban, and Delia will likely compete agin next season for the starter and backup roles for the Blackhawks, barring any trades or expansion draft variables. Unlike this season, the odd-man out in that scenario would likely end up playing in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs without the Taxi Squad likely not in-place next season.
Beyond those three, the Blackhawks just signed Swedish standout from this past season Arvid Söderblom to a two-year deal that kicks in next season. They have Matt Tomkins becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He played in 14 games with the IceHogs this past season with a 4-9-1 record, a .902 save-percentage, and a 3.337 GAA. Also playing in Rockford this season were rookies Tom Aubrun, Cale Morris, and Ivan Nalimov.
Nalimov, a former 2014 Draft pick by the Blackhawks, went 2-2-0 in five appearances with a .885 save-percentage and a 3.43 GAA. Morris, an unsigned college free agent acquisition, fared much better in his seven appearances with the IceHogs this season, going 2-3-0 with a .923 save-percentage and a 2.52 GAA.
But again, it is unlikely that any of these players have much of a future at the NHL level as a standout starting goaltender. Maybe Morris. Maybe.
Stan Bowman on Drew Commesso (BU): "He had a very good start to his college career. Someone we’re hopeful for. We have high hopes, pleased with his progress to date. I would say next year’s going to be a big step forward for him. He’ll be their goalie, go-to guy." #Blackhawks
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) May 12, 2021
As far as prospects go for the Blackhawks in net, it’s down to Drew Commesso at Boston University and Dominic Basse at Colorado College. Basse, a 2019 sixth-round draft pick, went 4-11-1 in 17 NCAA appearances this season with a .895 save-percentage and a 3.18 GAA as a freshman. For Boston University, Commesso was a standout freshman and named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team for 2020-21. A 2020 second-round draft pick, Commesso went 6-3-1 with a .915 save-percentage and a 2.99 GAA. He was set to participate with Team USA at the World Junior Championships this past January, but was held back due to COVID protocols prior to the start of the tournament.
Commesso, more than Basse, seems like a goaltending prospect that can develop at the college ranks and then come into the Blackhawks organization and be impactful. But with the way goaltenders develop and the time it can take for some, it’s still a crap-shoot. I wouldn’t mind if the Blackhawks used one of there first three picks in the first two rounds of this summer’s NHL Draft to select another goaltending prospect. Jesper Wallstedt, Sebastian Cossa, or Benjamin Gaudreau should be part of Chicago’s draft board this summer.
Without acquiring a top goaltender this offseason via trade or free agency, the Blackhawks appear content with going into the 2021-22 season with three, maybe four goalies that are at best a bundle of “maybes.” Unless the defensive structure of the team improves drastically from this last season to next (it won’t), then Chicago will be banking on Lankinen, Subban, and/or Delia performing over their means to find success during the 2021-22 season.