Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks Draft Their Top Players In Small Packages

By Stephen Yatsushiro
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: Adam Boqvist poses after being selected eighth overall by the Chicago Blackhawks during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: Adam Boqvist poses after being selected eighth overall by the Chicago Blackhawks during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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In selecting Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin in the 2018 NHL Draft’s first round, the Chicago Blackhawks continued their trend with smallish defensemen.  What does this mean for the future?

On Friday night, the expected NHL draft order fell off track in just the first five selections.  The Montreal Canadiens drafted Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third pick, and the Arizona Coyotes selected Barrett Hayton fifth.  To sound like a click-bait story, what happened next will blow your mind.

The Chicago Blackhawks have been exposed as a defensively-challenged team.  The popular theory was they would select a defenseman with their No. 8 pick.  Well, they went ahead and selected the highly-skilled right-handed Adam Boqvist from Sweden with that pick.

At age 17, he is 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds.  They drafted the savvy Nicolas Beaudin with their 27th pick.  This 18-year-old comes in at 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds.  Both are offensively-minded players but obviously lack size.

General manager Stan Bowman has stuck to his blueprint for the Blackhawks’ defense.  He still cherishes defensemen who are skilled passers and can join the offensive rush.  The problem is the ‘Hawks have had huge issues with shot suppression over the past two seasons.  The Blackhawks need to improve greatly in that area, and these two very nice prospects don’t boast shot suppression in their resumes.

Adding to the overload

The ‘Hawks already have defensemen Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell developing nicely in the system.  These top prospects are 6-foot and 5-foot-11, respectively.  They are also highly skilled right-handed shots who rely upon playing a tight gap to defend.  Also in Rockford is the puck-moving Gustav Forsling at 6 feet, 186 pounds, who also plays a non-physical brand of defense.

It appears that Bowman is loading up with a bunch of similar defensive prospects.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda…

The disappointing part is that both Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson were available when the ‘Hawks were on the clock with the No. 8 pick.  These two top-10 prospects have what is lacking in the Blackhawks’ pipeline: size.

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Bouchard is 6-foot-2 192 pounds, and Dobson is 6-foot-3 179 pounds.  Both are projected to play in the NHL sooner than either Boqvist or Beaudin. Sean Tierney @ChartingHockey evaluated the draft picks’ value to their slots on Twitter:

While both Bouchard and Dobson have been questioned about their defensive play, defensemen are known to develop more slowly than forwards.  What can’t be taught is size.

If you watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring, you saw tough defense carried the Washington Capitals to the championship.  John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Christian Djoos and Michal Kempny (OUCH!) shut down the relentless Vegas Golden Knights’ offense with a stifling brand of defense.

All but the young Djoos weigh in at over 190 pounds.  Not only are the Capitals’ defenders heavier, they play heavy.  Defense will win games, and a heavy defense will win championships, even in today’s faster NHL.

So how do the ‘Hawks beef up their defense for now?

We’ve talked about Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes in a previous post.  He’s still an option, but is still not a shot suppression specialist.  Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is most likely staying in Ottawa now that general manager Pierre Dorion traded forward Mike Hoffman to resolve a locker room spectacle.  John Carlson has been extended in Washington after Brooks Orpik was traded to Colorado to create salary cap space.  These are the big-name defensemen who will most likely (or, in Carlson’s case, definitely) stay put.

There are still several quality defensemen available via free agency, which will open on July 1.  Again, we’ve discussed the possibility of Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, John Moore and Ian Cole as targets for the ‘Hawks.  All four fit the mold of top-4 defensemen who can play the heavier style of defense.

Out of these four, Hickey is not as physical, but he has shown some sandpaper in his play.  The top shot blocking free agent is Cole.  Any of these four would be welcome additions to the ‘Hawks.

Trade possibilities for young, up-and-coming defensemen may have dwindled now that the 2018 NHL Draft has come and gone.  The ‘Hawks had a pretty big trading chip with two first-round picks to offer, and they chose to hold onto it instead.

Next: In Defense Of Drafting Defenseman Boqvist

Bowman did not bolster this year’s defense with either of his two first-round picks.  Both players are at least three years away from playing in the NHL.  So, I’m sticking with the idea of beefing up the defense by tapping into the free agent pool.

Stan Bowman, you’re on the clock come July 1.

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