New Blackhawks forward Jason Dickinson needed to get out of his head.
Thrown into the fire in his Hawks debut Saturday, he did just that — because he hardly knew anything about his new team anyway.
”The best players in the world play the game without thinking, right?” he said. ”Everything’s on instinct. So there’s definitely something to it. I know over my career I’ve overthought too much sometimes, and that definitely is a problem when I start playing poorly. [I’m working on] just going out there and playing, simple as that.”
Dickinson notched three points — for only the third time in his career — and was named the second star of the Hawks’ 5-2 victory against the Sharks.
It was a remarkable debut for the 27-year-old, who had just met the team for the first time Friday — after a weeklong wait for his immigration paperwork to process — and who had received his only instruction from coach Luke Richardson at the morning skate.
”Sometimes things just click,” Richardson said. ”He had a chance to come in here and have a fresh start, and he took advantage of it. . . . Sometimes there’s this instant chemistry, and sometimes there isn’t. Fortunately for us, there is [chemistry] here.”
Dickinson has experienced both scenarios already. In Dallas, his home for his first three full NHL seasons with the Stars, Dickinson fit perfectly.
His defensive results were stellar. From 2018-19 through 2021, he allowed only 2.09 expected goals per 60 even-strength minutes, tied for 10th-best among NHL forwards. He was also a solid penalty-killer and scored enough — 22, 21 and 15 points in the three seasons, respectively — not to be a liability offensively.
But with the Canucks, who signed him to a three-year contract in the summer of 2021, it turned out he never fit well. Dickinson tallied only 11 points in 62 games and allowed 2.78 expected goals per 60 even-strength minutes. An under-the-radar injury further hindered him.
”I want to get back to what I was in Dallas,” he said Saturday. ”I was the Swiss Army knife [there], and that’s what I’ve done most of my career: Just do what I’ve got to do.
”Last year, there were some tough circumstances. I had a broken hand I didn’t know about for a while. Maybe my game wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but there were also a lot of things just going against me.”
That adversity, compounded by the added pressure of playing in his native Canada, took a toll on him mentally.
”I wasn’t able to compartmentalize and shut things out,” Dickinson said. ”[I was] letting too much get to me and putting a ton of pressure on myself. It never goes well when you start thinking too much.”
In his first game with the Hawks, he immediately proved to himself he could compartmentalize successfully again.
His first period was understandably ”ugly,” to use his word. He was on the ice for both Sharks goals, and he said replaying those in his mind would ”eat me alive for a little bit.” He quickly put that behind him, however, and dominated the remaining 40 minutes.
He made savvy plays to set up both of Sam Lafferty’s short-handed goals, including a never-give-up centering pass while lying on the ice behind the goal on the second one. He later ripped a perfectly placed shot on a two-on-one rush for the Hawks’ fifth goal. He finished the game with the Hawks’ third-best expected-goals ratio (66.6%).
It was just one game, but Dickinson seemed refreshed already.
”I’ve forgotten about last year,” he said. ”[I] can’t let it bother me and can’t dwell on it because it’s done and it’s over with. Now it’s just, ‘Move forward. Start playing hockey again.’ ”