Blackhawks’ Taylor Raddysh adding more physicality to his game

Taylor Raddysh realizes he historically hasn’t been the most intimidating guy.

Like most NHL players, he was always a top scorer coming up through junior hockey and the minor leagues. And unlike many NHL players, his offensive skills are good enough to give him genuine top-six upside at the pro level. He has never needed to transition into a grinder role at any point.

But entering this season, despite being penciled into a second-line role on the Blackhawks in which he has performed fairly well so far, the 24-year-old winger wanted to finally add a grit-and-grind aspect to his game. At 6-3, 200 pounds, he certainly has the size to do it, even if size isn’t the only thing he offers.

“Being a bigger guy and getting more comfortable with playing in the NHL, that’s something I want to try to bring,” Raddysh said Tuesday. “The last couple years, I haven’t been the most physical guy. But it’s something I have to do if I want to play bigger minutes and play a bigger role on the team.

“If I’m finishing my checks, [forcing opponents to start] turning the puck over and just playing hard on their ‘D,’ it’ll eventually create more space for me and the rest of the guys out there.”

His efforts have made a difference. Raddysh — who’s on track to play his 100th career NHL game Dec. 9 against the Jets — has proven since joining the Hawks last spring that his development isn’t finished yet, that he can still improve further.

Coach Luke Richardson recalled Tuesday an instance during the Hawks’ recent California trip in which Raddysh was the last forward to leave the offensive zone but the first to get back and defend the net, back-checking so staunchly that he helped save a goal.

“He’s a good shooter — we know that — but away from that, he’s taken steps being harder on the puck,” Richardson said. “That’s a smart young player, knowing you have to do that to continue to improve and stay in the league. He wants more opportunity.”

The Hawks’ team leaders in terms of hits are largely unsurprising. Jarred Tinordi leads by a mile with 62 hits, followed by fellow defensemen Connor Murphy (36 hits) and Jake McCabe (26). Among the forwards, Reese Johnson (26), Jujhar Khaira (24) and MacKenzie Entwistle (23) being three of the top four is also quite predictable.

But right in the middle of that mix — actually tied with Khaira for second among forwards with 24 hits — is Raddysh. And that’s probably not what one would expect.

He averaged 1.39 hits per game as an NHL rookie with the Lightning and Hawks last season. He’s averaging 1.60 hits per game so far this season, having also recorded four goals and three assists in his 15 appearances. He’s the only Hawks forward who has scored in their last four games combined (although that’s more of an indictment on the team’s dire offensive drought than a compliment for him).

Raddysh said his increased physicality is partly due to increased strength and partly due to a more aggressive mentality.

“It gets you more involved in the game, finishing your check,” he said. “[Even if] nothing comes out of it anyway — it’s just the way the game goes sometimes — [if you] just keep finishing your checks, their ‘D’ will wear down and know you’re coming the next time.”

And he’s seeing results, too.

“In the offensive zone, [I’m] winning puck battles and getting the puck back to linemates,” he said. “Especially on the power play, too, [I’m] outmuscling them low.”

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