LAS VEGAS — It wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that Blackhawks forward Andreas Athanasiou had the fifth-fastest maximum skating speed (24.18 miles per hour) of any NHL player last season, according to new data released by the league.
But it would probably surprise most people to hear that fellow Hawks forward Jason Dickinson had the seventh-fastest speed: 24.08 mph.
“I don’t mind that guys sleep on me a little bit and think I’m a little bit slower than I might be,” Dickinson said. “I can catch some guys off guard.”
While Athanasiou’s blazing skating ability can certainly make a difference offensively, Dickinson more often uses his ability to try to keep up defensively with other teams’ stars, which might be why his speed flies under the radar (figuratively).
Nonetheless, it’s real. Beyond that max speed — which took place in January against the Flames — Dickinson also had 88 total bursts faster than 20 mph (putting him in the 78th percentile leaguewide) and 498 bursts of 18-20 mph (putting him in the 89th percentile in that regard).
This season, his max speed has been 21.84 mph against the Canadiens, and he ranks in the 73rd percentile leaguewide with 47 bursts faster than 18 mph.
“I try to skate with the best of them,” he said. “I’m going to have to be fast to keep up with some of those guys. That’s where I spend most of my time skating fast. I [also] try to attack fast, but I’m not lugging the puck up the ice from goal line to goal line. That’s not common for me.”
Asked to identify some of the toughest opposing players to defend speed-wise, the five guys Dickinson named off the top of his head — Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point and Dallas’ Roope Hintz — nearly mirrored the NHL’s data.
MacKinnon, McDavid, Point and Hintz were the top four players (in that order) in terms of 20-plus mph bursts last season, while Barzal fell just outside the top 10 (in the 98th percentile).
One man Dickinson didn’t name who also belongs in that same category is Golden Knights star Jack Eichel, who has some interesting similarities to Dickinson, according to Hawks coach Luke Richardson.
“[It’s] not that they’re the same type of player, but it’s hard for defensemen to judge how fast they’re going,” Richardson said. “They change their speed with the tenseness of their lower body.”
Dickinson does focus on changing speeds — and doing so quickly and deceptively — more than pure straightaway speed, so Richardson’s observation checks out.
His ability to do that, combined with his size (6-2, 200 pounds) and athleticism, makes him arguably the Hawks’ best defensive forward. He helped the Hawks limit Eichel’s impact in both games against the Knights over the last week, including the Hawks’ surprising overtime victory Friday. The Hawks held a 13-4 shot edge during his five-on-five shifts against Eichel.
“It’s like the cornerbacks in football,” Richardson said. “They’re the best athletes in the game because they have to be quicker than the wide receivers, who have world-class sprinting speed.
‘‘When you have a guy who’s relied upon to defend guys like Eichel, [Auston] Matthews and MacKinnon, you have to be able to skate, and . . . that’s probably one of his best qualities.”
Offense has been a bigger challenge for Dickinson this season, however, as he has gone seven games without a point since his two-point opening night.
His production tended to come in spurts last season, so perhaps a hot streak is imminent. It’s worth noting that he has averaged 8.36 scoring chances per 60 minutes at five-on-five, up from 6.28 last season.