What If Chicago Blackhawks Had Made Different First Draft Picks?
Tickets went on sale Wednesday for the 2016 NHL Draft, which will be held June 24-25 in Buffalo, N.Y. We still have a Stanley Cup winner to crown, and probably some moves among teams — for players and/or picks — before we get to this upcoming draft. But what about drafts of the past?
Ten NHL drafts ago, Jonathan Toews was taken in the first round, third overall, by the Chicago Blackhawks. Nine NHL drafts ago, Patrick Kane was chosen in the opening round, first overall, by the same squad. Look what those players have done for the organization since.
But what if the Blackhawks hadn’t taken one or the other — or, Marian Hossa forbid, both? That’s what I’m here to take a look at. I’m going to glance back at the last 10 NHL drafts and select a player the Blackhawks most likely would’ve taken with their first pick instead of who they did choose. The only rule is, I’m not stealing guys who were drafted before the Blackhawks’ picks. The past only changes when it comes time for the Blackhawks to pick in a given year.
Some of those decisions may be for the worse (you’re not going to want anyone over Toews or Kane, considering how things have played out), and some may be for the better (Kyle Beach, anyone?). It should bring about some interesting possibilities and “what if” scenarios, though.
Drafted: C Jonathan Toews (1st round, 3rd overall)
Redraft: C Nicklas Backstrom (1st round, 4th overall, Washington Capitals)
So let’s imagine the St. Louis Blues use actual logic and take Toews with the first overall pick, instead of defenseman Erik Johnson. We’ll also say Pittsburgh sticks with Jordan Staal at No. 2. The Blackhawks probably are still pushing for a bona fide No. 1 center here, considering their early-round focus in the three previous drafts was on defensemen and right wings, so Backstrom is the choice. Maybe you could get away with Claude Giroux, but I think Backstrom is the better pick.
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Backstrom has had a nice career so far with his actual drafting team, the Capitals. He has played in all regular-season games in six of nine years and has missed no more than seven contests in all but one regular season. The three-time All-Star has 642 points, including 220 powerplay assists, and averages 19:53 ice time per game in the regular season, 10 seconds more than Toews in his career.
His career faceoff percentage, however, is far weaker than Toews’ in the regular season (50.4 percent vs. 57.1 percent) and playoffs (50.9 percent vs. 56.8 percent), and the closest Backstrom has gotten to any postseason hardware is placing runner-up in Calder Trophy voting.
While both guys have fine point-scoring playoffs resumes (Backstrom has 62 points in 83 games; Toews boasts 108 points in 124 games), it’s clear Toews is a better all-around center than Backstrom. And that’s not even considering Toews’ leadership role on the Blackhawks. Backstrom would’ve been tougher than Toews to revive a franchise around, but he certainly wouldn’t have been a terrible selection.
Drafted: RW Patrick Kane (1st round, 1st overall)
Redraft: LW James van Riemsdyk (1st round, 2nd overall, Philadelphia Flyers)
Let’s say then-Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon got conked on the head before the 2007 draft and decided Kane was going to flame out in the NHL. While we don’t know if Tallon was as high on the elder van Riemsdyk as the current Blackhawks brass seems to be, I think Tallon would’ve taken JVR with the top pick if he wasn’t thinking Kane.
I could’ve gotten really creative with this one and offered the selection of P.K. Subban, who went in the second round to Montreal, or Jamie Benn, who went in the fifth round to Dallas. But I’m trying to be realistic and base these redrafts on who topped the pre-draft boards in a given year. Considering how long it took for those guys to come off the board, there’s no way Tallon would’ve taken Subban or Benn first overall.
And so we land with JVR, who was thought of in an almost Kane-like manner prior to this draft. Those feeling certainly haven’t materialized into NHL success, as JVR is now stuck with the Toronto Maple Leafs after three dismal seasons in Philly.
JVR is a big dude, especially compared to Kane, checking in at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds. Blackhawks fans have been itching to see current Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman find a way to acquire JVR during a trade deadline, but it’s yet to happen. He’s maxed out at 61 points in a regular season and has struggled to stay healthy. The Blackhawks certainly made the right pick going with Kane over JVR.
Next: 2008 And 2009 Drafts