With the NHL Entry Draft quickly approaching, Stan Bowman held a press conference earlier this week addressing the current state of the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s no secret that the Hawks need to address some key issues and hopefully, they can select the right pieces to rebuild the Windy City into a contender when the draft gets underway. This offseason will be an awfully interesting one for the Blackhawks.
With key players Corey Crawford, Drake Caggiula, Dylan Strome, and Dominik Kubalik all on the verge of becoming free agents, as well as the team being at the salary cap ceiling, the Hawks need to look at reshaping the roster for the future. The first step of this process begins at the NHL Draft later this week.
During his interview this past Wednesday, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman commented on his draft strategy.
While this strategy does work from time to time (Ex: Kirby Dach), it should not be the mentality of every single draft class, especially in an upcoming draft that features a boatload of talent throughout the first round. Outside the top three picks, it’s almost guaranteed that each draftee will not reach the NHL until 2 or 3 years after they are selected.
Therefore, teams are essentially building their rosters for the future. By Bowman’s theory, the Blackhawks should automatically draft the top player available, regardless of position. I’ve got a question for Stan, how does this really help build the team later on down the road?
Sure, the prospect might turn into something special, but hockey is more of a team game rather than an individual game. You can have all of the most talented forwards in the world, but if you don’t have a serviceable defense or goaltender, your team is not going to go anywhere. Just look at what happened to the Edmonton Oilers this season after they picked the “best player available” with their boatload of Top-10 picks over the past 10 seasons.
Reiterating to the point I made earlier, the selections will not be playing the NHL for another 2-3 seasons. A lot can happen in those seasons. Players could drop off in talent or even suffer a severe injury that can make their value plummet significantly (Ex: Nolan Patrick). If an organization drafts for their needs, they at least will have prospects that can help them in future seasons, compared to drafting a player that will either cause you future salary cap issues or that you have to rely on trading later on.
We all have seen a prime example of how this can work out when the Blackhawks traded their former 1st round pick Henri Jokiharju last year for Buffalo’s Alex Nylander. Jokiharju has been a reliable defenseman for Buffalo this past season, whereas Nylander has been almost unnoticeable for the Blackhawks. If the Hawks would have kept Jokiharju to help with their current need on defense, that would be one less piece that they need to improve. Also, it would be a cheap price to pay at only $925,000 for the upcoming season, which would help Chicago’s cap problem.
Sure, there are sometimes going to be situations like the Boston Bruins passing on Mathew Barzal three times in 2015. I’ll give you that. But look at the Bruins overall success that they have had over the past decade. They recently have drafted for positional need rather than just taking the best player available, and because of this have become a model of consistency. While the championships aren’t necessarily there, they are always a Cup contender every single season.
The majority of their roster has been built through the draft, as mainstays like David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and Jake Debrusk all have been selected near the middle of the first round or later. They also traded to acquire Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild, who also was a late first-round selection in his draft year. This is just four of the ten mid to late 1st round selections on their squad.
Trying to predict who is the best player available is almost a crapshoot in today’s NHL, as this has been demonstrated by almost every draft class in the last 20 seasons. This is why the Blackhawks need to draft for their positional needs rather than taking the best player available regardless of position.
If the Blackhawks can learn to adapt this draft strategy, don’t be surprised if the Windy City reemerges as a league-wide threat within a few years.