Tough decision looms on Dylan Sikura as Blackhawks prepare to make one final cut among forwards


The second-to-last preseason game is usually the last chance for bubble players to make a final impression because the last one is typically regarded as the dress rehearsal ahead of Game 1 of the regular season.

The Blackhawks healthy scratched Patrick Kane from Thursday's game because they wanted to give those guys a chance to do so. Dylan Sikura stepped into Kane's spot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Nick Schmaltz as well as on the top power play unit to give him a chance to play with offensively-skilled players as the organization looks to make one more cut up front.

It was apparent how the coaching staff felt through two periods of play after Sikura was moved off the power play and bumped to the fourth line in favor of John Hayden, who had his best game of the preseason.

"I want to play the same game regardless of the situation, whether it's preseason, regular season or playoffs," Hayden said following the Blackhawks' 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. "I just do what I can. Lot of things out of my control, out of all our control, just play as hard as you can and try and help the team out however you can."

Given how complimentary coach Joel Quenneville was of Luke Johnson and David Kampf earlier in the week, it's looking like Sikura may be the odd man out as the Blackhawks look to make one more cut up front.

"Yeah, it's something that kind of lingers around during this time of the year, but just trying to play my game and see what I can bring to the table," Sikura said of the roster decisions going on around the fringe players. "Obviously there's going to be some tough decisions to be made and that's going to happen."

Asked after the game whether Sikura could benefit from a stint with the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League, Quenneville said: "We’ll see. It’s something we’ll talk about. We don’t have many moves left. We have one extra forward now and a discussion."

While it would certainly be difficult to swallow for Sikura and may feel like a demotion if the Blackhawks choose to go that route, it shouldn't be when you take a step back and look at the larger picture.

Sikura spent four years in college at Northeastern before joining the Blackhawks for the final five games of the regular season in 2017-18. He's still considered a prospect and hasn't had much time getting acclimated to the Blackhawks' system, unlike the other bubble forwards such as Hayden, Johnson and Kampf.

"It's been pretty tough," Sikura said. "We're on the ice every day and we're working out every day and obviously this is my first experience so I'm pretty new to this whole thing. Like I said, every guy here is fighting for spots and there's a lot of other guys working hard and working for those final spots.

"I think sometimes when you're out there you just kind of overthink a few things. There's a lot thrown at you within these two weeks with the systems and everything and you kind of catch yourself thinking too much out there sometimes. I think you've just got to rely on your instincts and sometimes you've just got to play the game of hockey instead of systems and stuff like that."

A stint in Rockford would allow Sikura to develop at his own pace and let the system become second nature. Look no further than Vinnie Hinostroza, who served as a midseason spark plug last year after fine-tuning his game in the AHL.

"Obviously I want to stay here," Sikura said. "This is the place I want to be. At this point it's tough to say what's going to happen. There's positives to both, obviously you see a guy like Vinnie last year go down and lit it up down in the [AHL] and come back up and sign a nice contract, so obviously there's some pros going to Rockford and you obviously want to play in the NHL. At the end of the day just control what I can control at this point."

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