As the Blackhawks open Game 1 against the Oilers on Saturday, Dylan Sikura in all likelihood won't be in the lineup. But he's waiting, and ready, should his number be called in the coming weeks.
With a short three-week camp to get ready for playoff hockey, the main forward group in practices has largely stayed at the 12 skaters expected to make up head coach Jeremy Colliton's opening afternoon lines, but Sikura is perhaps the strongest candidate at No. 13.
"It can be frustrating to be outside that top group when you're trying to prove you belong in there, but I think he's done a really, really good job," Colliton told reporters last week. "Right from day one, he's had a lot of energy and you can see he's hungry to play."
Opportunity presented itself in the final days of camp in Chicago when Jonathan Toews was declared "unfit to participate" -- later clarified by the captain as just a maintenance day. With Colliton not wanting to disrupt the other three lines, Sikura was a straight replacement on the top line and top power play unit in practice. As the team broke into two sides for a scrimmage to wrap the day up, the 25-year-old made a statement, scoring two goals in the final 15-minute minute period and the game-winner in overtime to seal the 3-2 victory.
"The power play moved it really well when he was there and then the scrimmage he had some success," Colliton said. "That's important for him to feel that confidence again."
That confidence is important for a player that has totaled 47 games over three seasons with the Blackhawks. Sikura's 68 points in 91 AHL games, for whatever reason, haven't quite translated to the NHL level, where he has scored 14, including three (1G, 2A) in nine appearances this season.
"It's been a tough road. Trying to find the spot you fit in or what kind of player you're going to be at this level, but I think sometimes it takes time," Sikura said. "For me, it's always been a time game and kind of waiting out and trusting the process there."
Both he and the Blackhawks know the skill is there, and hope that it can come through on the biggest stage if called upon.
"He's an NHL player and he can help us win. I believe that that's the truth," Colliton said. "He has a part to play here and a lot of times in the playoffs, those guys who get in late or as depth players, they end up being the difference. We want him to feel good about his game and be excited for his chance to contribute."
"Hopefully I can take a step here, maybe get into a game or two depending on what happens and see what happens," Sikura said. "Just keep kind of taking a step and hopefully one day breaking that barrier and becoming a regular."