Do the Blackhawks Still Need to Add Defensive Prospects?
By Kyle Graden
With just over a month until the draft it's difficult to not just focus on getting Connor Bedard and starting our new era of Blackhawks hockey. One thing that definitely is not being talked about is drafting more defenseman in the top 2 rounds of said upcoming draft.
Most of the focus has been on adding speed and skill to our forward group as the perceived notion has been that we have enough in our defensive prospect pool. On one end it is true, we have drafted a lot of defensive prospects in the top 2-4 rounds of the most recent entry drafts.
Last draft, in 2022, we took Kevin Korchinski at #7 and then added Sam Rinzel at #25 when we traded back into the 1st round for our 3rd selection in the top 25. We took Nolan Allan as the last pick of the 1st round the year before. We took Taige Harding and Wyatt Kaiser as recent 3rd rounders as well.
Alex Vlasic was the 43rd pick in 2019 whom seems ready for his best chance at making the Hawks' NHL club this upcoming campaign. There are also some players that we have drafted or acquired that look to have NHL futures like Isaak Phillips, Michael Krutil, Ethan Del Mastro, Alex Regula, Louis Crevier, or Filip Roos.
For all the players listed though, think about this: There is also an equally long list of players (recently) that we have moved on from or have left on their own (see an old article I wrote on Shawn Lalonde for that hilarious tale). If you recall, in back to back drafts we took three 1st round blue liners (Boqvist, Beaudin, and Jokiharju) and a highly regarded 2nd round pick (Mitchell). The year before, in 2016, we felt "lucky" to get Chad Krys at #45. Jakub Galvas just left for Europe even though at times he appeared to seem like a potential bottom pairing player. All of those players, likely Mitchell soon, are no longer with the team and none of them are thriving elsewhere.
Point being.... Hope, in all forms, can sometimes fool you into thinking everything is ok. We have highly selected defenseman. We are ok. We have alot of top 2 round blue liners, surely a few of them will be in our top 4.... Nope. Perception is not reality afterall. We need to see the production at the NHL level, point blank.
So does this go around all feel different? For me, it does simply because I feel the Blackhawks' brass of Davidson, Campbell, Eaton, Maciver, and Doneghey knows how to scout a player for the NHL level, however it doesn't mean to me that we should now rest easy with whom we have already drafted.
Seth Jones and Connor Murphy are now the only two veterans we have that have consistently proven to be top 4 NHL defenseman. Seth will turn 29 just before the season starts while Connor just turned 30 exactly 2 months ago. While very dependable now, in a few years their play may start to age and thusly making it necessary to find new players that can take on these heavy minutes that these two are skating for Chicago.
We all hope that it's Kevin Korchinski, Ethan Del Mastro, Alex Vlasic, Wyatt Kaiser, Sam Rinzel, and Nolan Allan as an outstanding top 6 in the near future.... but I caution this simply by asking the simple question, well, what if they don't pan out, who are the players that are behind them?
So with 6 picks in the top (1,19,35,44,51, and 55) 2 rounds it's easy to say well just take forwards in this forward heavy draft so we now re-stock that pipeline as our historically great lineup is now all gone. Players that will likely be there at 19 like an Oliver Bonk for example. I see him as a no doubt 1st round defenseman that I think will be a top 4 in the NHL. Some don't see it this way, but I think he is worthy of a pick in the 18-25 range.
In the most recent mock on www.tankathon.com you'll notice that they mocked 6 forwards for the Blackhawks in their first 6 picks. To me, while tempting, this doesn't give us that safety net in terms of balancing our prospect pool. By no means should we not take the best player on the board, however I am saying that I believe in many cases that defenseman like Bonk, Strbak, or Akey will be available and we should heavily think about taking one of them.
It's easy to focus on finding scoring wings, two way centers, or power forwards in the upcoming draft. Let's also not forget that finding true top 4 defenseman is extremely difficult and we need to continually re-stock our group of blue liners. Remember, none of these guys that we are depending on have established themselves as NHL players afterall.