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FEATURE: Sikura embracing the development process

Dylan Sikura made significant strides in 2018-19, even if the offensive numbers weren't there

by Chris Wescott / Blackhawks.com

The word "panic" doesn't appear in Dylan Sikura's vocabulary. 

Sure, 2018-19 was challenging at times but there was never an urge to hit the big red button.

For being an offensively dynamic 23-year-old forward, Sikura's production wasn't near what he or anyone else might have expected in his first full professional season. He tallied no goals and just eight assists in 33 NHL games through two separate stints.

But to his credit, Sikura kept jumping over those boards. Shift after shift, game after game, he kept on putting in the effort to pull it all together.

But it was still a bit of a rollercoaster. He was up with the Blackhawks and then he was down skating with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. He was up again and then he was down again.

"You don't really know what to expect until you get [to the pros]," Sikura said. "I know there are a lot of cliche phrases used but they're true. It really is a grind. I think this year for me, going up and down a couple of times kind of takes a toll on you a little bit mentally. But I think I've had a good approach every time I've been up or down."

Not only did he approach this season with the right attitude, but there was clear improvement in his game from his first run in the NHL to his second. The second time he came up, Sikura was often rolling with Chicago's top line and due to his defensive contributions, the lack of offensive numbers didn't scare the coaching staff away from keeping him there.

"That was huge," Sikura said. "My first time around, the whole time you're up there, you're trying to gain trust with [Head Coach] Jeremy [Colliton] and also your teammates. My first time around I was trying to find my game there. The points weren't coming and that's when you get moved. The second time around, when you're doing the right things with the backcheck and stuff that doesn't go unnoticed with Jeremy. He's a real smart coach and knows when you're going. It was unfortunate not having the points I was looking forward to but the coach was good. Even in our exit meetings, that was something he brought up. He said he hoped I realized how much he tried to trust me with how he used me up there."

While he was lighting up the stat sheet at Northeastern University, Sikura's defensive game was in need of work and he recognized that.

"That's something I kind of pinpointed even in my senior year, going back," he said.

It wasn't until this season that the defensive side of his game started to become more strength than weakness.

"When he came down after the first stint, he was so good at working at that and focusing on that," said Rockford Head Coach Derek King. "I told him don't worry about the points because that's what comes naturally to him. That's what he does. When he went back up, those were the reports I got from Jeremy that he had really brought his game around."

In his second go around with the Blackhawks this season, if Sikura was close to a puck he was attacking it. If he had the puck and lost it, he was right on the opposing player's hip pocket, and there were many times where he won it back deftly.

"I think this time around up top I was a lot better defensively than I was offensively, which is something that isn't really my game you could say but it's something you need to have," Sikura said. "You need to be a 200-foot player up there. If you can figure that part of it out first before the offensive part then you know those are kind of your instincts and they'll come back and hopefully you can start contributing and being a trust-worthy guy out there. That's what it's all about."

His devotion to developing his two-way play was appreciated by everyone.

"That's something I took pride in and I know it was noted throughout the locker room and with Jeremy," said Sikura. "It's something I wouldn't have thought I'd maybe have to do so much coming out of college but it's something that's pretty important in our game today and I can use it to my advantage."

Eventually, Sikura returned to the IceHogs to help them as they attempted to make the playoffs. He was dynamic once again.

"I think he plays extremely confident," said Rockford veteran Andrew Campbell. "He demands the puck. He wants the puck and he constantly has the puck on his stick. When you're a gifted player and you have that confidence that you're capable of doing anything, you're not afraid to make plays or make mistakes because you know you're going right back out there. You know you're going to get a lot of ice, a lot of power play time and you're creating a lot of chances. That's the biggest thing for him, probably, when he goes up top. Just carry that confidence and go from there."

Sikura racked up 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points in 46 games with Rockford this past season. That offensive impact is still very much a part of his game and there's a very good chance it translates to the NHL as soon as this season.

"Sometimes, skilled guys or guys who should be putting points up, it doesn't happen right away," said King. "They have to learn how to play without the puck. I think that was a big knock on him, not working to get pucks back or not being able to play d-zone or stuff like that. He's working hard. Maybe the points aren't there but he's doing everything right now."

Sikura isn't worried at all about how his season went. There was plenty of good to go along with his lack of scoring. Earning the trust of his NHL coach and teammates was a great start to his future in the league.

"Just thinking about the long term for me, throughout my whole career in juniors and college, I've taken a couple of years to get accustomed to the size and the speed of the game," he said. "This year, I'm just thinking about the process. It was year one of hopefully many. Guys develop at different times. It doesn't matter when you find it as long as you do."

"Panic" may not appear in Sikura's vocabulary, but he's fluent in "resiliency."

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