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Tyler Johnson Undergoes ADR Neck Surgery, Goal Droughts, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

I got my COVID booster shot on Thursday evening. As a result, like many others, I felt some side effects yesterday from getting the shot. Nothing terrible, just some body aches and fatigue, much like I did with getting the second shot. I would advise everyone to get theirs, but you’ve heard that before. Anyway, one of the aches I experienced was in my neck. It sucked. I’ve had on and off neck issues since high school due to football, but nothing that has needed serious medical attention.

It got me thinking how much worse it must have been for players like Jack Eichel and Tyler Johnson to have tried to played hockey in the NHL with such serious neck pain that it eventually required surgery, a surgery that the Sabres denied the former 2nd overall pick and wasn’t until Eichel was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights that he was able to become the first NHL player to receive it. Yesterday, Tyler Johnson became the second NHL player to go through the surgery.

•   The Blackhawks announced a number of injury updates yesterday, including Johnson’s surgery and Connor Murphy being placed in concussion protocol.

•   Johnson had been out of the lineup for the Blackhawks because of the neck injury, and being placed on COVID protocol, since October 29. After clearing protocol, Chicago expected Johnson back in the lineup but his neck issues kept him out. Here’s the play that caused the injury against the Carolina Hurricanes.

•   Hurts just looking at it.

•   Johnson had been playing well to begin his Blackhawks career after winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had three points in his first eight games and was being used in a top-six role and on the powerplay. His experience and versatility was a valuable asset to Chicago, but now he will be out of commission until late-February/early-March.

•   As Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times points out in his discussion with Vincent Traynelis, the director of the Neurosurgery Spine Fellowship Program at Rush University, the ADR (artificial disc replacement) surgery has a shorter recovery time than the ACDF (anterior cervical discectomy with fusion) surgery that has been used primarily in these situations. Jack Eichel pushed for the ADR, but the Sabres wouldn’t allow him to have it, instead pushing the ACDF, which can take up to a year for recovery. It’s great news for future NHLers who may need the procedure as Eichel and Johnson can show off the benefits to having the surgery and coming back 100%.

•   As for Eichel, it looks like he’ll be ready to return to the ice by the New Year.

•   The Blackhawks have had to manage without Johnson for over a month now, but one thing that they haven’t been able to manage without is goal-scoring. Yes, they are 7-3-0 in their last ten games since Derek King took over as interim head coach, but they are scoring just 2.10 goal per game. It’s not sustainable and the “big guns” outside of Alex DeBrincat have had goal droughts that need to come to there ends if Chicago is going to try to continue to move up the standings.

•   While Dominik Kubalík was able to get on the board on Thursday night, Kirby Dach had ample opportunity to find his own slump-busting goal, but was unable to convert on multiple chances. Prior to Thursday’s game, Dach spoke about his inability to consistently find the back of the net this season.

•   There was an opportunity for Dach to fire on a 2-on-1 chance Thursday night, but Dach passed instead of shot, looking for Dylan Strome with a pretty backdoor feed that didn’t connect. It was a chance that had everyone at home shouting “SHOOT!” at their TVs.

•   If Chicago is going to try to keep their favorable results going, they’ll need players like Dach and Toews, and even Patrick Kane, to start putting the puck in the net. They can’t rely on Marc-André Fleury standing on his head every night to keep them in games.

•   Speaking of Fleury, the Blackhawks only have one goaltender on the books beyond this season and he is playing as a rookie with the Rockford IceHogs. After trading Malcolm Subban to the Sabres and rumors of potentially listening to offers on Fleury, what is the plan for the Blackhawks in net for their future?

•   Kevin Lankinen seems like the short-term answer after Fleury leaves the team, but what beyond then? Who plays backup? Is Drew Commesso on deck? There’s a lot for interim General Manager Kyle Davidson to figure out if he’s truly acting like the long-term man at the helm of the Blackhawks.

•   Speaking of front office openings, the Bulls might be in the market for a new General Manager if the Portland Trail Blazers go after Chicago GM Marc Eversley…

•   One goaltender who might be throwing his hat back into the “long-term” ring is Collin Delia. Lately, Delia has looked back in the form that made him a viable option in net for Chicago.

•   Once looked at as the next goaltender to come up through the minor league system and into a regular NHL role for Chicago, Delia has since fallen down the depth chart and spent most of his Blackhawks career in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs. Delia is an easy player to root for, but it would take him playing lights out to knock Lankinen out of the backup role in Chicago.

•   The IceHogs got a 4-1 win last night over the Grand Rapids Griffins and recently assigned forward Philipp Kurashev tallied two insurance goals for Rockford in the win.

•   Don’t look now, but the IceHogs have won three in-a-row and are 6-2-2 over their last ten games. They currently are 8-7-2 and in fourth-place in the Central Division based on points (18) and points-percentage (.529).

•   In other Blackhawks prospect news, 2019 fourth-round pick Antti Saarela had himself a historic day yesterday, recording the fastest hat-trick in Finnish Liiga history

•   Saarela has quietly become one of the best European prospects in the Blackhawks system, with eight goals and 14 points in 22 games with Ilves this season. He has already matched his point total from last year in less than half as many games.

•   In NCAA Hockey last night, St. Cloud State’s Jami Krannila pulled off maybe the best goal of the year in the college ranks.

•   SHEEESH

•   Tonight, the Blackhawks are in New York to take on the Rangers. An original six matchup, the Rangers are coming off a 1-0 win last night over the San Jose Sharks with a combined effort from goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev.

•   The reason for the combined effort was because Shesterkin had to leave the game with an injury, but it doesn’t look like it will be that serious for the New York net-minder.

•   Chicago will likely prepare to face Georgiev tonight and they will also see a familiar face on the Rangers bench with Artemiy Panarin leading the way for New York.

•   I’m sure we’ll get a nice pregame moment from Panarin and Patrick Kane tonight too.

•   That will do it for today. Hope you all have a good Saturday and we will see you tonight For Blackhawks and Rangers at 7:00 p.m. CT.



Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.