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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
30 Sep 2023

NextImg:Blackhawks’ Taylor Raddysh faces difficult task of repeating 20-goal breakout

If Taylor Raddysh can repeat the productivity and reliability of his 2022-23 season in 2023-24, it would not only aid the Blackhawks but also earn him a sizable new contract.

Indeed, this is a crucial year to determine his career’s longer-term trajectory, and he knows it.

“It’s a big season for me,” said Raddysh, 25. “I feel like it’s kind of a contract-year type of thing. I’m just trying to keep building off of last season and...keep trying to define my role with this team. [I intend] to show them I want to be here and be here for a long time. That’s my goal.”

Entering last season, looking at the lack of established offensive talent on the Hawks’ roster, it seemed inevitable somebody would emerge out of the blue and put up decent point totals. After all, somebody was going to have to score the team’s goals.

Raddysh ended up being that guy. A year after making little impact in limited ice time as a rookie for the Lightning, then being one of four assets sent to Chicago in the Brandon Hagel blockbuster, he evolved into a impactful top-six winger on the Hawks.

Taking advantage of ample playing time (16:34 per game), Raddysh broke out for 20 goals — tying Andreas Athanasiou for most on the team — and 17 assists with a 15.5% shooting percentage in 78 games. He also led all team forwards in scoring-chance ratio during five-on-five play; at 51.0%, he was the only guy not in the red.

Now, Raddysh’s challenge will be repeating that breakout and proving it’s his new standard, not a fluke. That’s certainly what will be expected of him.

“He was at 20 goals last year, and I think that’s a good starting point for us — and for himself — to have expectations this year,” Hawks coach Luke Richardson said. “He looks like he’s confident out there, he looks stronger, and every time he shoots a puck, I feel confident it’s a scoring chance.”

The issue is historical precedents paint a pessimistic picture of Raddysh’s chances of actually repeating that breakout.

Over the last 10 years, 23 forwards — 22 excluding Raddysh — who were not first-round picks (a qualifier that removes guaranteed stars from the equation) have scored 20 or more goals in their second NHL seasons. That list includes everyone from Kirill Kaprizov (47 goals in 2021-22) and Alex DeBrincat (41 goals in 2018-19) to Anthony Duclair (20 goals in 2015-16) and Raddysh’s former Tampa teammate Ross Colton (22 goals in 2021-22).

Out of those 22 examples, 16 failed to match or exceed their goal total the following season — their third in the league — and 14 failed to hit the 20-goal plateau at all. On average, their production declined by 4.9 goals per player.

Part of that trend can be attributed to regression. Part can be attributed to the fact that the more a player scores, the more defenses focus on stopping him. Raddysh will probably experience that phenomenon this fall.

“Everybody knows he has a pretty heavy shot,” Richardson said. “We used to pre-scout that when we played against him — when I was [coaching] Montreal and he was in Tampa — because we didn’t know who he was and that was the only thing we had on him.

“Now he’s a more dangerous player on the rush [and] on the power play, he’s a goal-scorer with a heavy shot and he looks quicker this year. Teams are going to be ready for him. So it’s another challenge for him to go get open more and get his opportunities without giving the team anything lax defensively.”

Ex-Devils forward Yegor Sharangovich is one of those aforementioned 22 examples, and he’s a particularly applicable one in this situation.

A former fifth-round pick, Sharangovich broke out in 2021-22 for 24 goals with a 14.3% shooting percentage. In 2022-23, though, his shooting percentage fell to 9.9% (closer to league average) and he potted only 13 goals. After the season, the Devils traded his restricted free-agent rights to the Flames.

One year from now, Raddysh will be facing restricted free agency, too, and there’s a very real possibility he could find himself in a comparable spot to Sharangovich.

Conversely, there’s another very real possibility he could find himself in a much rosier spot. Maybe he’ll instead follow a path like the one blazed by his current Hawks linemate Tyler Johnson, an undrafted prospect who scored 24 goals in his second NHL season in 2013-14 and then 29 the year after.

Regardless, how he fares will make a difference measured in millions of dollars.