For The First 76 Games Of His NHL Career, Adam Boqvist Played For The Chicago Blackhawks — His 100th Game Will Be Against Them

By Ed Francis on January 10, 2022 at 5:59 pm
Adam Boqvist had six goals in 74 career games with the Chicago Blackhawks, a number he's already eclipsed in his first 23 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I'm happy in Columbus and this is where I want to be."

Words that many Columbus Blue Jackets fans wanted to hear from Seth Jones in 2021 — but words that many 5th Liners are happy to hear from Adam Boqvist in 2022.

Boqvist, 21, was one of several key pieces the Blue Jackets acquired in an offseason blockbuster with the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago's acquisition of Jones. Earlier in the offseason, the 26-year-old (now 27) four-time All-Star had let the Blue Jackets know that he was not interested in a contract extension with the organization. 

Chicago was a heavy favorite for Jones' landing spot, but Boqvist was not aware that he would be a part of the return haul for Columbus.

"My agent (Peter Wallen) talked to the general manager in Chicago (Stan Bowman, who resigned in October) right after the season," said Boqvist. "There were some rumors around and he (Bowman) said 'we won't trade Adam'. But you know, it’s a business, it happens. There's nothing you can do about it."

Boqvist was in his native of Sweden when he found out about the trade, but the news didn't come from the Blackhawks.

"I found out on Instagram, actually," said Boqvist. "It was a little bit surprising, but I'm happy now."

He'll have a chance to show Chicago what they lost Tuesday when the two teams face off against each other for the first time since the trade. Adding to the moment is the fact that it will be Boqvist's 100th career game in the NHL. 

Though his first season in Columbus has been partially derailed with injuries, Boqvist is showing why general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was adamant that any deal for Jones needed to include the young defenseman.

In 23 games with the Blue Jackets, Boqvist has seven goals and seven assists. That's more goals than he had in his 76 career games with the Blackhawks, and those seven goals have come on just 27 shots in a Columbus sweater. For reference, his six goals with Chicago were the product of 89 shots. 

There aren't just lucky bounces, either. Watch the play below from a December victory over the San Jose Sharks. Boqvist gets the takeaway deep in Columbus' own zone, just a few feet in front of goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. But he notices that he's already ahead of two Sharks, both of who were behind the net.

Then, it's off to the races. With Jakub Voracek and Jack Roslovic in tow, Boqvist uses his speed to separate himself from the two Blue Jacket forwards, who at this point, are entering San Jose's zone with the puck. With the defense focused on Voracek and Roslovic and away from Boqvist, Voracek finds trailing defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, who in turn gets it back to Boqvist. He's in prime position for his right-handed shot, and easily beats Sharks goalie Adin Hill's stick side.

A great team effort, but an even more impressive individual effort by Boqvist. It was his second goal of the game and gave the Blue Jackets a two-goal lead midway through the third period. The tally would wind up the game-winning goal in a Columbus victory that ended a four-game losing streak. 

The defense is coming around, too, but there's some degree of patience required in today's NHL. Most of the league's younger, upper-echelon blue liners are known as much for their offense (Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Miro Heiskanen, to name a few) as they are their defense. 

Still, signs point towards Boqvist improving here, too. Giving the puck away is a death sentence for NHL defensemen. In his rookie season, Boqvist averaged 2.35 giveaways per 60 minutes. Last season, it was marginally better at 2.12. This season that number is all the way down to 1.41, a marked decline and a sign that Boqvist is developing an understanding of his position. Compare that with the three aforementioned young talents:

Giveaways Per 60, First Three Seasons
Player 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22
Adam Boqvist   2.35   2.12   1.41
Adam Fox   2.77   1.59   1.76
Cale Maker   2.00   1.18   0.71
Miro Heiskanen*   2.93   2.10   2.76

*Heiskanen had 3.04 in the 2018-19 season, his rookie year. 

Makar blows everyone else on the list away, but for Boqvist to fall in a steady second of those four names is noteworthy. While it goes without saying, not giving the puck away when you're the proverbial last line of defense is usually a good thing.

One other area that shows Boqvist is improving comes in the difficult-to-explain category of Expected Standing Points Above Replacement. In short, the xSPAR (as it's commonly known) takes a player’s performance on a number of key metrics on both sides of the puck, then eliminates the junk (luck, empty netters, etc.), and spits out a number that attempts to give an approximation of how many points in the standings that performance would be expected to be worth. 

Boqvist's rookie season came with an xSPAR of +1.5 and his sophomore season last year was +0.7. This season, he's up to a +3.3. These numbers are tough to grasp without a comparison, so here's a few noteworthy names and how they check out:

  • Roman Josi, one of the best defenseman in the NHL over the last decade, was a +1.3 and +1.5 in the first two seasons of his career before catapulting to +7.0 in his third season. The Nashville Predators captain was at +2.2 last season, +2.5 this season, and has a career average of +3.6.
  • The Colorado Avalanche may be onto something with that Makar kid. He was +4.5 in his rookie year, +4.9 last season, and is +6.9 this season.
  • After soaring at +3.2 and +4.9 in his first two seasons (with, yes, Jones by his side), Werenski cooled to +2.9 in year three. This season, he's at +1.6. For his career, the average is +3.5.
  • This wouldn't be complete without a full comparison to Jones, who has a +2.3 career average in the category, was at +1.8 in his third season, is a +1.3 in his first season with Chicago, and had an abysmal -1.9 (yes, negative) in 2020-21, his final season with the Blue Jackets.

In other words, the 21-year-old is helping the Blue Jackets at a rate that may be a surprise to some — even in a season that has been preached as one of growth and development. He'll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but there is no indication that Boqvist isn't a part of Columbus' future plans on the blue line, and there's no indication that he's eager to leave.

"I like it here a lot, I like the city, I like my teammates, I like the organization," said Boqvist.

"I'm enjoying my time here."

So are we, Adam.