When it was announced back on June 30th that Jonathan Toews would be returning to the Blackhawks this season, a wide range of expectations for what that would mean for the club and Captain began.
After missing all of the 2020-21 season, Toews was coming back to Chicago with a cloud of mystery surrounding him. The optimists among us thought Toews would come back rested and healthy, looking like the Toews of old. The pessimists, by contrast, thought Toews wouldn’t be able to live up to the billing of the No. 1 center for the Blackhawks that he has been his entire career, some not even believing he could be a shell of himself. So far through the first 14 games of the season, Toews has played in each one and has been everything he has needed to be for Chicago.
The only thing he hasn’t been able to do this season is score a goal.
In his latest for The Athletic, Scott Powers dove into Toews’ underlying numbers outside of his 14-game goal-drought to begin the season, the longest of his career to start a year.
As Powers points out, Toews ranks 27th in the NHL this season among forwards for Goals Above Replacement (GAR) as defined by Evolving Hockey’s model at a 3.1 GAR. That also ranks him the highest on the Blackhawks so far this season. He also ranks second on the team in 5v5 Corsi-For percentage at 52.13, second in 5v5 Scoring Chances-For percentage at 52.52, and fifth among forwards to play at least 75 minutes for 5v5 Expected Goals-For per 60 minutes at 1.97, according to Natural StatTrick.
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Elsewhere, Toews is playing an effective defensive game once again. His ranks on the team defensively for forwards have him second in Corsi-Against per 60 at 50.69, second in Shots-Against per 60 at 29.29, fourth in Expected Goals-Against per 60 at 2.30, and second in Scoring Chances-Against per 60 at 24.78.
Toews is also having a career-best season at the face-off dot, winning 60.5% of his draws this season. He ranks seventh in the NHL among forwards to take at least 150 draws this season and leads the Blackhawks in win-percentage and total faceoffs. Among the 11 NHL forwards to take at least 150 total faceoffs, 25 on the powerplay, and 25 on the penalty-kill, Toews ranks third at even-strength (59.2), fourth short-handed (48.8), and first on the man-advantage (70.4). His 60.5% win-rate is the highest of his career, better than the 59.91% he finished the 2013 season with.
He’s fourth on the team in points with eight assists, but has yet to score his first goal of the season.
Maybe a confidence booster happened on Tuesday night against the Penguins. In the shootout, the first of the season for the Blackhawks, Toews was in a familiar position taking the first opportunity for Chicago. He went with his go-to move, going backhand five-hole on Tristan Jarry and scored. Toews has taken the tenth-most shootout attempts (102) in NHL history and has scored the most shootout goals (51) in league history. It helped propel the Blackhawks to their third win of the season and second in-a-row under Derek King.
Toews has always been able to be penciled-in for at least a 20-goal pace every year of his career. He’s taken 25 shots this season, less than two per game. He’s playing the least minutes per game of his career this season, averaging 17:51 minutes of ice time. Although his ice-time has decreased, he’s third on the Blackhawks this season with 15 Individual High-Danger Chances, trailing only Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat.
You can expect the goals to come eventually for Toews. He’s doing everything else right. He’s living up to the expectations of the optimistic fan, outside of putting the puck in the net. The first one of the season could be the opening of the floodgates for the 33-year-old centerman, but it has to start with the first one.