Remember last year when Blackhawks interim general manager Kyle Davidson traded one of Stan Bowman’s failed rehab attempts, Alex Nylander, to Pittsburgh for some guy named Sam Lafferty?
It was the first trade Davidson made involving NHL roster players. The response from most fans was “man, Nylander was a bust.” Not many people were as excited about the return as the organization finally moving on from the talented but unsuccessful Nylander.
Ten months later, not many Blackhawks fans remember Nylander’s name. But there are plenty of us who are really excited by the play of Lafferty.
Lafferty isn’t going to skate 22 minutes or score 40 goals. He isn’t as skilled as Patrick Kane. He doesn’t have a gorgeous head of hair like Jake McCabe, either.
He looks like an old school hockey player. Bald. Missing his front teeth. And he never quits.
I’m just going to be blunt and make a bold statement: Sam Lafferty has been the Blackhawks’ best player so far this season.
Yeah, I mean it.
On Friday night, Lafferty was the catalyst for the Blackhawks’ comeback win. Of his 15:50 on the ice, 3:43 came killing penalties. He won four of seven faceoffs. He was physical; he finished tied with McCabe and Jarred Tinordi for the team lead with four hits. His three shots on goal were tied for second on the roster with Seth Jones and Andreas Athanasiou. In short, Lafferty checked every box.
And that’s before we consider his assists on both third period goals the brought the Blackhawks back to earn an overtime opportunity.
After the game, head coach Luke Richardson was coy when asked if he put Lafferty on the ice to start the OT against Detroit’s Dylan Larkin. He said it was a matchup play as much as riding the hot hand. But there’s no question Lafferty’s dominant performance earned him consideration there.
“He had a great game,” Richardson said after the win. “[He’s] been great all year.”
Max Domi, who was named the game’s No. 1 star because he scored the OT game-winning goal, handed the honor to Lafferty after the game without hesitation.
“He’s unbelievable,” Domi said. “You see the energy he brings to our whole team, it’s outstanding. Whether it’s 5-on-5 or on the PK, he was first star again tonight. The guy’s unbelievable. He’s deserving all the credit he’s getting. He’s going to keep going, keep getting better. I’m really happy for him You watch him in training camp, in practice, he’s the hardest-working guy every single day. Those are the guys that get rewarded. Really happy for him.”
Lafferty had six goals and 15 assists in 94 games with the Penguins before the trade to Chicago. Last year he immediately received an increased opportunity with the Blackhawks and took advantage, producing 11 points in 46 games.
I just pulled up the Blackhawks’ season-to-date stats and Lafferty leads the team with five points in four games.
The Blackhawks liked his speed and effort when they acquired him, and we’ve seen that pay dividends on almost every shift since he was inserted into the lineup last year. The best part: the 27-year-old forward is in the first year of a two-year contract that carries a $1.15 million cap hit. All of a sudden, a guy who couldn’t crack the lineup in Pittsburgh looks like an incredible bargain.
Every time I talk to him, he’s praising someone else. He’s the ultimate we-not-me guy and he is obviously relishing the chance he has to show what he can do at the NHL level in Chicago. He’s taking advantage of the position he’s been placed in and earning every second of ice time Richardson gives him.
If this is the kind of player Davidson is going to build around, sign me up. And this being one of the first moves on Davidson’s record as GM should be one of the early wins fans can point to as cause for increasing faith that the new front office might actually know what they’re doing.