The 2023 NHL Draft was loaded with fast, talented forwards. It was clearly the most talented draft in a while. Most fans and writers believed that the Chicago Blackhawks would use the draft to help build around Connor Bedard offensively. With picks 19 and 35, it was clear they would get a talented offensive player or, perhaps, a puck-moving defenseman like Lukas Dragicevic, who was available at the time.
The Chicago Blackhawks pivoted here and took the first goalie of the draft. They selected Adam Gajan from Slovakia. This selection not only came as a surprise but left many scratching their heads. After all, Gajan was ranked somewhere in the high 60s to 70s for all players by most scouts. For goalies, he ranked around fifth or sixth choice, with one ranking him at two and one not even in the top 10. It's clear that the hockey community was not sold on Gajan with many having doubts about the 19-year-old.
So why the high selection from the Blackhawks?
The Chicago Blackhawks have a clear number one for this year- Petr Mrazek. He is in the last year of his contract which will help eat up cap space. If he plays well, he could be moved at the trade deadline to a team competing in the playoffs that need a solid backup. Joining Mrazek are Arvid Soderblom, Drew Commesso and Jaxon Stauber.
Soderblom is a project and has not shown what most believed he would bring. (of course, playing in front of the Blackhawks' defense doesn't help) Commesso has been the heir apparent in terms of expectations. He will draw some net time in Rockford this season, so we will get a better feel for what he brings. If his time in Wisconsin is any indication, he could be a long-term answer. Finally, Jaxon Stauber was 5-1 for the Blackhawks last year. He played extremely well. In Rockford, he was not as strong with a sub-.900 save percentage.
So, yes, the Blackhawks have a lot of potential vying for the starting position between the pipes. But it's just that- potential. To win in the NHL, teams must have a dynamic goalie who can win games on their own merit. And for most teams, it will take two solid goalies. At this point, there is not a clear answer and Adam Gajan brings an aggressive, athletic style that could pay off for Chicago.
Gajan increased his stock this year at the World Juniors. In four games, he had a 2.40 GAA and a save percentage of .936. Earlier that year in Chippewa of the NAHL, Gajan posted a 2.57 GAA and a .917 save percentage. He is clearly improving and that trajectory is what interests the Blackhawks.
Gajan is a relatively big goalie at 6'3" and 181 pounds. He is very athletic with quick side-to-side movement. He is known to be very aggressive, which in the past has caused him some problems. With proper coaching, the Blackhawks can work with his athleticism. His upside is through the roof.
Additionally, Gajan has that competitive intangible. He came onto the Slovakian team last year as the number three goalie and quickly earned the top spot. No one will know if the Blackhawks struck gold with Gajan for a few years. He will be joining Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA while continuing to develop. In a few years, we can look back and judge Kyle Davidson's choice. For now, it looks like the Blackhawks have a gem in the making.