Chicago Blackhawks Shouldn’t Rush Promotion Of Talented Prospects
By Colin Likas
Everyone is excited for the idea of guys like Alex DeBrincat dotting the Chicago Blackhawks’ roster in 2017-18, but I’m hopeful the team is a little more cautious about exposing its young talent too quickly
Prospect Camp is right around the corner for the Chicago Blackhawks, staring Monday and concluding next Friday at Johnny’s IceHouse West. The roster has been released, and among the 45 players who have been invited to the camp, few are drawing as much attention as Alex DeBrincat.
The 19-year-old forward lit up the scoresheet during three seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, most recently posting 127 regular-season points and 38 playoff points. With Artemi Panarin recently traded, some Blackhawks fans are hopeful DeBrincat can slot right into the second-line left wing role.
While I’m not here today to try and kill the buzz on DeBrincat, I am here to say I think it’d behoove the Blackhawks to take things slowly with their talented forward prospects heading into this season. I believe general manager Stan Bowman is already thinking along this line, but let’s talk a little more about why I think this is a good idea.
Youth wouldn’t be final piece for Blackhawks
If DeBrincat was somehow the missing piece for Chicago heading into the 2017-18 season — and how you could say that about a kid who’s never played NHL hockey is anyone’s guess — then sure, I’d be all for a quick promotion. But there’s just no way that’s true.
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This upcoming Blackhawks team is going to be flawed. The last two certainly were as well, but this one has some pretty big holes. There’s a Niklas Hjalmarsson-sized one on the blue line, and there is a bottom six that’s filled with question marks as a result of multiple offseason acquisitions and the Blackhawks still needing to fill the second-line left wing spot.
The Blackhawks are not one impressive young gun away from lifting the Stanley Cup. Am I saying they have no chance to win the chalice in 2018? Not at all. Things can always change. But heading into the season, guys like DeBrincat, Alexandre Fortin, Nathan Noel, Matthew Highmore and Luc Snuggerud are not the answer to any questions.
If you’re calling up really young guys during the season, or just having them start a season on the roster despite limited to no NHL experience, there’s one of a few things happening:
— Your team sucks (see the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche)
— Your team is really good and can afford to try out different parts with an eye to the future (see the Blackhawks in the past)
— Your team is an injury-laden mess
— Your team has just drafted Connor McDavid 2.0
The Blackhawks fall into zero of these categories right now. They’re firmly trying to seek out an identity in 2017-18. If their identity is to try and plug in promising youngsters right off the bat, they’re probably tanking for a solid draft pick in 2018. Just being honest.
Da Windy City
Bowman has roster filled
Names like Tommy Wingels, Lance Bouma, Tomas Jurco and even Patrick Sharp aren’t meant to impress Blackhawks fans. But adding them was done in order to prevent the Blackhawks from having to call up some of their promising youngsters too soon.
You know what you’re going to be getting from all these guys (maybe a little less with Sharp right now). No, they’re not bringing home any individual hardware at the NHL Awards, but they keep your team moving along.
And while that isn’t the sexiest approach to take when you’re trying to win championships — something Bowman has said he still sees the Blackhawks trying to do right now — it’s a great approach to take when it involves keeping an eye on the future.
Rushing guys to the NHL level can be an extremely dangerous proposition. Kyle Baun was pushed to the moon upon leaving the college ranks, and now he’s hardly even an AHL player. Among the troubles that can confront players being pushed to the big show too soon are crushing his confidence and confusing him about his future role in the NHL game.
The Blackhawks have some promise in their future if they’re patient with some of its big pieces. So if someone like DeBrincat, Fortin, Noel, Highmore or Snuggerud plays so well in the offseason camps that you can’t afford to leave him off the opening night roster, then fine. But otherwise, patience is more likely to pay off.
Noting a few exceptions
Now, for someone like David Kampf or Laurent Dauphin, I would argue the situation is different. These guys are both 22, while the guys I listed before were all 19 to 21 years of age. So is 22 just some magic number for hockey development?
Not at all. Kampf was signed as a free agent out of the Czech Republic this offseason. You typically don’t sign guys from overseas like that unless you expect them to make an NHL impact in the very near future.
Dauphin was part of the Hjalmarsson trade to Arizona. He has some NHL experience under his belt already as a result of playing for some bad Coyotes teams. So pushing him forward into a bottom-six role wouldn’t be such a stretch to start 2017-18.
Next: 5 Reasons Blackhawks Will Make Playoffs In 2018
So there are young guys who the Blackhawks can turn to for impact early next season. They just need to make sure they’re not turning to some of those guys too quickly.