Blackhawks sign Riley Stillman to 3-year contract extensionBen Popeon April 25, 2021 at 6:53 pm

Riley Stillman, recently acquired by the Blackhawks from the Panthers, signed a three-year contract Sunday. | Getty

Just six games into his Hawks tenure after being acquired from the Panthers, the 23-year-old defenseman has received a long-term extension with a $1.35 million cap hit.

After just six games, Riley Stillman has impressed the Blackhawks enough to earn a long-term contract.

The Hawks on Sunday signed Stillman, 23, to a three-year extension with a $1.35 million cap hit that will theoretically keep the young defenseman in Chicago through 2024.

“Having a young, physical defenseman like Riley in the fold is exciting for the future of our team,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. “He is growing into an excellent all-around defenseman and that continued development is something we look forward to seeing firsthand. We love his size, and his toughness adds another piece to our defense.”

The former Panthers prospect, acquired in the multifaceted trade earlier this month that also included Henrik Borgstrom and Brett Connolly, has averaged 16:43 of ice time through his first six Hawks appearances — up from 10:43 in his eight Panthers appearances earlier this season.

Stillman, who was set to be a restricted free agent this summer, said Sunday he wanted to get contract negotiations out of the way as early as possible in order to focus on improving his game and integrating with the team.

“It’s great to come into a place, an organization that believes in me and wants me to be here,” he said. “From what I’ve seen here the last two weeks, I love the city of Chicago, the organization all the way through is top notch and I’m really excited to be here.”

His physical play and conservative style are relative rarities among the Hawks’ defensive core, but his extension potentially spells bad news for the Hawks’ one other defenseman with a similar style: Nikita Zadorov.

Zadorov is now the Hawks’ only defenseman with an expiring contract this summer, although he will still be a restricted free agent.

Stillman hasn’t produced the most impressive statistics through his tiny sample size since the trade, with a 47.3% shot-attempt ratio and 40.2% scoring chance ratio during his even-strength ice time. Zadorov stands at 46.7% and 44.9% in those two categories, respectively, this season.

But Stillman does bring the same intimidating physicality that Zadorov hangs his hat on: he has been credited with 16 hits through six games, a rate (2.7 per game) only slightly behind Zadorov (3.4 per game).

And Stillman has, so far, been largely able to avoid the costly, inexcusable turnovers that have marred Zadorov’s first season in Chicago. Zadorov has averaged 5.3 failed defensive zone exits per 60 minutes, per analyst Corey Sznajder’s data; only a handful of other NHL defensemen are worse, and Stillman isn’t one of them.

Nothing is set in stone yet, but Stillman’s extension certainly increases the odds that Zadorov’s RFA rights are traded this summer.

Bowman considered offers for Zadorov at the trade deadline but asked a higher price than any suitors would meet. Lowering the price and actually moving Zadorov this July would represent waving the white flag on last October’s much-criticized Brandon Saad trade with the Avalanche.

The rest of the Hawks’ defense looks largely cemented for next season, however, with the exception of possible expansion draft loss Calvin de Haan. Veterans Connor Murphy and Duncan Keith and youngsters Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nicolas Beaudin and Stillman should all be back.

That stability and youth seemed to appeal to Stillman.

“To come into a young group and have an opportunity to grow and develop and get better alongside those guys, especially on the back end, is really exciting,” he said. “[I’m excited] to see what this team and we can do in the future.”

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