It is truly such an amazing feeling knowing exactly whom we'll draft with "our" first pick, still it may be the rest of the draft that truly defines wins and losses moving into the future though. Depth won Vegas a Stanley Cup this season, they had 4 lines and 3 pairings while also rotating in 2nd, 3rd and 4th in rotation goalies most of the season.
While getting Connor Bedard is a huge boon to our timeframe, we still do not have any defenseman prospects that have taken hold of top 4 spots yet. Sure, we have a ton of guys that appear ready to take that next step, however they have yet to arrive meaning it's still an unknown. Alex Vlasic, Wyatt Kaiser, and Isaak Phillips will have big opportunities this season to be the first to try and cement their NHL futures with the Blackhawks. Perhaps Kevin Korchinski as well, but I am all about the long game with him (he is still 18 as of this writing after all).
After this season the aforementioned Korchinski, along with Ethan Del Mastro, Nolan Allen, Alec Regula, and Taige Harding should all get their chances as well. Past the next 2 years, first round pick Sam Rinzel could be entering the prime of his development and warrant consideration.
While these names are all known by Blackhawks fans, it should also be known that it is very difficult to become a true NHL top 4 defenseman. While my belief is that we may already have a great group of guys that could make up our future 3 lines, it would behoove us to take a run at some of the better prospects in this draft.
David Reinbacher will be a top 10 pick and will not be available for the Blackhawks. I could see him being drafted anywhere 5 to 10. Tom Willander, Axel Sandin-Pellikka, and Dimitri Simashev appear to be the tier that is next. All 3 are picks likely in the 10-20 range which could mean the Blackhawks could have 1 or all 3 of them on the board.
These 3 players could not be more different from one another. Willander is a steady RD out of Sweden that has risen boards lately due to his high IQ, calm puck moving skills, and his play on the International stage. He is a 6'1 defenseman that could go off the board in the 9-15 range. Dimitri Simashev, to me, is just an unbelievable prospect if you just look at the tools and NHL ceiling.
At 6'4 and over 200 pounds the left shot Russian also is an excellent skater and shows elite athleticism from the defensive gap control he shows. He has speed and power and the tendency to easily stand up rushes before the other team can break out into scoring chances. As a defensive defenseman that has size, skill, and skating I would think this would be a top 7-8 pick in most drafts. With the political and geographical climate of today however, Dmitri Simashev may be picked in the 12-22 range. I for one do not think this will happen. I believe he will come off the board in the 8-13 range as the 2nd defenseman taken. If Kyle Davidson likes him, he'll have to be aggressive.
Axel Sandin-Pellikka is a smooth power play quarterback of a prospect. He projects as an undersized offensive defenseman. While his skill trait in this area appears to be NHL caliber, I do not believe he will be a target for the Hawks with Kevin Korchinski being drafted. I think Sandin-Pellikka could likely be a guy that falls a bit and could be in the 15-23 range instead of the top 10-13 range as some have him.
It's the next tier of defenseman that present the most likely group of players that the Blackhawks could target with picks 35, 44, 51, and 55. Either in combination to move up or to select one of them as it stands. Oliver Bonk, Tanner Molendyk, Etienne Morin, Lukas Dragicevic, Mikhail Gulyayev, and Maxim Strbak are some of the names we could target in that late 1st to early / mid second round.
In that group, guys like Morin, Molendyk, Dragicevic, and Gulyayev seem less likely to me given their stature and skill traits (as we have Kevin Korchinksi in tow) however having a backup prospect to Korchinski in a similar mold is not a bad idea. If we drafted Dragicevic say at 35th or 44th it doubles down on a position and gives us depth at a very important area of need.
Oliver Bonk and Maxim Strbak present different avenues for the Blackhawks however. Both players are larger framed right shot defenseman that project as steady second pairing players. The Blackhawks prospect pool at defense is a little left shot heavy at the moment and either one of these players could be a great fit. Bonk is likely to go in the 22-34 range and Strbak in the 30-50 range so if Davidson wants Oliver Bonk he'd likely require a move up from 35. If staying at 35 and 44, then Maxim Strbak seems like a good option.
Anyway you look at it, defense wins games and we should constantly be adding to our defensive prospect core. In a draft full of forward depth it could mean some outstanding defenders are available later than in a normal draft year. Whom should we pick? We'll see, but make no mistake I'm sure the Blackhawks are eyeing some of the players I mentioned. c