The NHL Entry Draft is just about a week away, and in an interview on Wednesday, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said he plans to take the best player on the board. Here’s why he’s right to do so.
Now before we start, I know Bowman doesn’t exactly have a sterling record on his trades. He is actually at least alright at the draft. That, however, isn’t the point. The point is the Chicago Blackhawks’ general manager knows some very major things about this particular draft, and drafts in general. He’s been doing the job for nearly a decade now after all.
First, this particular draft class. It’s got the talent to be found all throughout the first round and potentially later, and Bowman and his scouting staff know this. They also know that their forward prospect pool is running low and needs to be restocked and that the defensemen currently playing in the NHL leave… something to be desired.
Another thing the Blackhawks staff knows about this draft is the first round is going to be particularly forward-heavy. There are some very good defensemen to be found, but after Jamie Drysdale (who’s likely a top 5 selection) they share similar projections. Bowman might be maddening, but he’s a guy that at least tries to be deliberate and plan.
Players need to develop. Adam Boqvist said he probably needed 2-3 years of further development before he would be ready. We likely won’t see the drafted player for a handful of years. The staff knows this, which is why drafting a player based on a current NHL positional need (like defense) is a poor strategy. By the time that player makes it to the NHL, the strengths and weaknesses of your team could have shifted dramatically.
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Scouts and staff are aware of the fact that defensemen typically take longer to develop and reach the NHL than forwards do. Defensemen in the first few rounds typically take around 3-4 years from their draft to make it as a full-time NHL regular, versus around 2 years for a forward. Why is this?
D-men have to be doing a ton of thinking at all times; “where is the play going up the ice? Do I need to rebound it off the boards to the guy who has a clear path in? How long have the forwards been out, do we need a change?” and on. Keep in mind, if a defender gets burned, it’s a goal against that you cannot change. If a forward gets burned and doesn’t score, he’ll just get another shot later.
All in all, drafting for a current positional need is a poor strategy for long-term success. Especially in the first round. Players take time to develop, and if you’re looking at your NHL roster and using the draft to fill those gaps before you look at who the best player available to draft is, you’re doing yourself a disservice and setting up for a situation like Boston passing on Mat Barzal three times. We do not want to see the Blackhawks make a similar mistake.