So far, this season has produced some truly amazing moments for Chicago Blackhawks' fans. From some early season surprise victories over the Penguins, Maple Leafs, Lightning, and Golden Knights (all of which are considered playoff teams if not Cup contenders) to 9 (should be 10) outstanding Connor Bedard goals (especially stick lift to no look roof over a 2x Vezina winner). Those are highlights that have made this season fun so far. Yet, the standings say that the Blackhawks are tied for the 2nd fewest points in the league at the moment. So, this is where we thought Chicago would be roughly 17% through the campaign right?
Sure it's fun to see Connor Bedard on a 50+ goal pace, but in the end being set up to truly contend in the seasons ahead is the true goal. The Blackhawks have holes in the roster that still need to be addressed. While Kevin Korchinski and Alex Vlasic (to me) look like legitimate top 4 defenders (and Seth Jones and Connor Murphy are still here with long term deals) to me there is still a dirth of true top 4 talent in the prospect pool. We can argue all we want on Wyatt Kaiser, Sam Rinzel, Isaak Phillips, Ethan Del Mastro, and Nolan Allen being those fits... but at this moment I can't rely on "maybes" and "what ifs", we need to go after top tier blue line talent in this next draft.
That's why through 14 games being in the #3 draft selection (by points behind San Jose and Nashville) is so noteworthy to me; this is a draft after Macklin Celebrini going #1 (I believe the gap has increased significantly of late that this will happen) that is loaded with defensive talent in the top half of the 1st round. So who will contend with the Blackhawks for these players? A look at how the league's schedule has played out thus far:
There are currently 12 teams below the .500 mark (meaning they are below a point per contest average and would be at 81 points or below if this held to seasons end). In (points) order those teams are:
5. Blue Jackets
That's an interesting list to say the least as at least a few of these teams were considered sure-fire playoff teams this year (namely the Oilers, but also the Kraken and Wild) while a few young teams were thought to take a tier jump perhaps (the Sabres and Blue Jackets). No one thought (I predicted a last place finish as did most media members) the Sharks would finish anywhere but last though.
For me the most suprising team is Columbus. This was a team that heavily invested in improving their defensive core, adding in Adam Fantilli, as well the most important piece which was the return of a healthy Zach Werenski. At 4-9-4 with a pre-season parting of their coach and now a benching of their 2 star players, the 2 month anniversary of naming Pascal Vincent as their 10th full-time coach in franchise history isn't going so well.
So while the season is still quite young and a lot can happen, it doesn't look like a lot will change at the bottom of the league standings from now until game 82 is in the books. Where will Chicago end up drafting? Who knows, but odds are the top 5 is a good place to place a bet and if it isn't #1 (Celebrini) than I'd venture to say Sam Dickinson, Anton Silayev, or Arytom Levshunov will don the Blackhawks jersey come next June.