Is Connor Bedard Necessary for the Chicago Blackhawks Rebuild?
By Steve Dishon
If one listens to Chicago Blackhawks fans online, it's clear that missing out on Connor Bedard will set the Blackhawks back years. After all, he is the next generational talent since Conor McDavid or Auston Matthews. But is it really that dire? Is Bedard a must to revive the franchise?
The answer is a clear "No." Of course Hawks fans want Bedard. Who wouldn't? He has racked up 143 points in 57 games this year for the Regina Pats. Additionally, he tallied 23 points in seven games during the World Juniors. The kid is dynamic and can simply put the puck in the back of the net. He is going to make one franchise very happy.
The idea, however, that losing the Connor Bedard sweepstakes means years of stagnation is simply wrong. If one looks back over the years, what all Stanley Cup champions have in common is a minute eating, puck possession defenseman. Yes, elite scorers are necessary, but those top pairing defensemen are more important to a complete team and championship success. Defensemen shouldn't be solely evaluated using offensive metrics, especially point production, but they should be evaluated on possession time and moving the puck. (of course the points help, too)
Blackhawks fans know all too well how strong defensemen help win cups. Hawks fans are forever indebted to Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Tampa Bay won two cups with Victor Hedman (He was taken number two that year behind John Tavares). The Penguins won with Schultz and Letang. The Blues had Alex Pietrangelo and the Caps had John Carlson. Additionally, with all of its firepower, the Avalanche likely would not have won last year without young defenseman Cale Makar. I can remember all the way back in the early 80s when Denis Potvin helped the Islanders win four cups and Paul Coffey added 126 points in one season from the blue line for the Oilers. The list goes on and on.
Recently, two examples jump out to support the need for this top defenseman. In 2015, Conor McDavid was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers. He was the savior to replace the memories of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. For all of his greatness, he is likely the best hockey player on the planet, he has produced one playoff series victory. He is even surrounded by another top five player in Leon Draisaitl. The problem? They lack depth through their lines and their defense does not match the offense. They have not found a top pairing that wins championships.
Another recent example is Auston Matthews. He was drafted the year after McDavid. He and the Maple Leafs can't make it out of the first round. He is an elite goal scorer and is surrounded by a lot of talent in John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Like the Oilers, they have not found a top pairing that can control the game and provide puck possession and point support.
With that in mind, the real key to the Chicago Blackhawks resurgence lies in the development of Kevin Korchinski and Ethan Del Mastro. Korchinski was drafted using a pick received in exchange for Alex DeBrincat. It was controversial at the time, but will ultimately be more beneficial for the Blackhawks if he can be part of the number one pairing with Seth Jones. This past season Korchinski scored 73 points in 54 games and had a +50 plus/minus rating. He is a smooth skater who can move the puck and captain the powerplay. He could ultimately prove more important to success than an elite goal scorer. He could do for the Blackhawks what Jack Hughes is currently doing for the New Jersey Devils.
Ethan Del Mastro is a bit of a wildcard, but could add another very important piece. He is a big defenseman with excellent skating abilities. He is more of a shut down defenseman, but is known as a player who can move the puck and transition quickly from defense to offense. Whether he ever makes the first pairing is questionable, but if he can provide depth at a high skill level, he will provide success for the Blackhawks.
I know Blackhawks fans are throwing tomatoes at their computer screens and phones right now, probably cursing me. They truly believe that it is Connor or bust. I, like all Hawks fans, would love to add Bedard to this developing team. He would most certainly make the turnaround faster. Winning the first pick isn't critical, though. Adding Fantilli or Carlsson would still be a huge win. The future really hinges on Kevin Korchinski and his ability to put in 20-25 minutes per game of puck possession and offensive pressure.