My report card for 2018-19, where center Colin Blackwell had six games of NHL play and no goals were scored by the Nashville Predators while he was on ice, had little to cover. This season was a much different story. Colin Blackwell was called up several times over the course of the season, and played in 27 games for the Predators, scoring three goals and seven assists. Blackwell only averaged around eleven minutes per game, but his smart play and ability with the puck allowed both former head coach Peter Laviolette and current head coach John Hynes to trust Blackwell in difficult situations.
Now Nashville stands (as of Monday afternoon) in another difficult situation—one that really shouldn’t be too difficult at all. Colin Blackwell is a pending unrestricted free agent; Evolving Hockey projects that he should receive a one-year deal for approximately $750,000. Re-signing Blackwell should be an easy decision for the Nashville front office, as the young player should be seeing his career with the Predators promoted to full time.
The Report Card
- Even though Blackwell totaled just under 300 minutes of ice-time at 5 on 5, he managed to make an impact at each opportunity he was given. Blackwell finished 11th on the team in goals per 60 minutes (0.62 G/60), fourth in points (2.07 P/60), fourth in blocked shots (4.76 blocks/60), and tied for second in penalties drawn (1.65 penalties drawn/60).
- Usually rookies like Blackwell are stashed on the fourth line with other low-TOI players, but Blackwell saw a variety of linemates last season, and totaled 10 minutes or more of ice time with six different line combinations. In fact, over a third of his time on ice was with Craig Smith or Ryan Johansen, as injuries to the Predators forwards forced him into a bigger role with his veteran teammates.
- Speaking of the lines he played on, Blackwell found a way to be effective no matter who played alongside, or the position he played, where he was often on the wing for other centers on the team. In fact, only one of the nine line combinations listed below saw a sub-50% on-ice expected goals percentage, meaning that nearly all of them were driving offense more often than their opponents were. In fact, Colin Blackwell’s lines did not give up more than two goals against each while he was on the ice, and Blackwell individually saw 17 Nashville goals scored as opposed to just ten against.
- Blackwell had an uncanny ability to find his way to the puck, no matter the situation, and was not afraid of being aggressive in his pursuit. In fact, Colin Blackwell was the best among Nashville forwards at retrieving the puck in the offensive zone:
- Blackwell also had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, a credit to his vision on the ice.
In John Hynes’s first game behind the bench for Nashville, Colin Blackwell’s first NHL goal was lost in the magic of Pekka Rinne’s goal later that night. But the entire sequence prior to his goal showed Nashville just how skilled Blackwell was. He and Admirals teammate Yakov Trenin led a rush through the neutral zone with crisp passing and a high-danger shot that just deflected off the Chicago goaltender. However, he was quick to maneuver back into position and once the puck was free, Blackwell was again in a high-danger position and sent the puck home. His aggressiveness, transition play, and passing all were on display and he was rewarded with the first goal of his career.
- Although I highlighted his forechecking ability above, nearly every other microstat tracked showed that Blackwell was among the worst on the team in passing, shot generation, entries and exits. I think part of this may be due to usually skating with a much more veteran center (either Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Colton Sissons or at times, even Matt Duchene). Blackwell seemed to be deployed as a wing more often than a center, and facilitating his linemates wasn’t a task he wasn’t asked to do often.
- Defensively, Colin Blackwell overall graded very well (see isolate above), but watching film, he often was tasked with defending the high player, usually a defender, and was not asked to go to the high-danger areas in front of the net. In a few of his games where goals were scored against him, he got beat by faster, better skaters.
- I think Blackwell did show great improvement in his NHL play, but I don’t know if he is a strong enough player yet to grow beyond a fourth line piece of the puzzle. This might be okay—he performed well in Milwaukee this season, and even with several free agent forwards looking to sign elsewhere, the fourth line might be where he stays. However, next season I’d like to see more production and play-driving, especially when given opportunities alongside the likes of other top-six forwards.
I debated on whether or not to use his first goal in this spot, but what I liked about the film on Blackwell was that several of his highlights showcased a different aspect of his game. His other two goals were no exception.
Colin Blackwell’s highest time on ice last season came in a fifteen-minute outing against the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately, that was the game where Nashville turned a 2-2 second period tie into an 8-3 loss, and by game score (via HockeyStatCards.com), it was Blackwell’s worst performance of the season. While both of the goals in the video below aren’t necessarily directly Blackwell’s fault, they came with two different line combinations and he was unable to generate anything offensively.
Another reason it goes down as a “worst moment”? The SportsNet broadcast was also doing a “spend the majority of the period talking to a country music star” bit rather than calling the game.
Final Grade: B-
I am a little torn here: if I am grading Colin Blackwell as an NHL rookie seeing his first real chunk of time with the organization, I’m giving him a B+. His game improved a ton over last season, he was not a liability while on the ice, and was able to produce points with a variety of linemates, even Austin Watson.
But grading him as a potential free agent signing that will be asked to play a crucial role in the bottom six with the departures of Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund looming, I’d like to see a little bit more refinement in his game—I’d give him a C. He played well as a wing alongside a veteran center most of the year, but I’d like to see him facilitate his linemates a bit more often, as it’s likely that he could be asked to center the bottom line or play alongside other players that do not drive play well like him.
So we’ll split the difference, and give him a solid B-. I think that of the two rookies at forward that saw time in Nashville last season, Blackwell had a better overall performance, but he’ll need to grow up quickly next season and show that he’s got middle-six potential rather than being a fourth line role-player.
How would you grade Colin Blackwell in his time with the Predators during the 2019-20 season?
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