The Blackhawks need a philosophy change in developing and drafting

Lukas Reichel, Chicago Blackhawks
Lukas Reichel, Chicago Blackhawks / Jonathan Daniel/GettyImages

Take a look at the Blackhawks prospect pool. Other than Lukas Reichel, is there a prospect who’s a good bet to be a top six forward, top 4 defenseman, or starting goalie? You might say Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin, who are both former second round and first round picks respectively, but they haven’t been able to take the next step yet. 

When you look at both their analytics in their young pro careers, both defensemen are below 45% in categories like corsi, fenwick, expected goals, and high danger chances. And while some defenseman can make up for poor defense with good offense, the offense isn’t overwhelmingly good for them either. To be fair, Mitchell does have 11 points in 18 AHL games this season, but Beaudin has just 5 assists in 19 AHL games. 

I think a lot of the inconsistencies in their games has to do with the past regime calling them up too early and yo-yoing them between the AHL and NHL. This is the development problem. There hasn’t been any patience. When you look at their first round picks since 2017, all of them have been in the NHL within a season. 

Henri Jokiharju, who was the 29th overall pick in 2017, is an interesting case because he was arguably the most NHL ready of the first round picks. Jokiharju had a 54.1% corsi and 52.43% fenwick in 38 games with Chicago in 2018-19, though just a 47.97% xG and a 45% HDCF. He was eventually sent down to the AHL where he put up 17 points in 30 games and won a gold medal at the world juniors with Finland. I still don’t understand why they traded them for Alex Nylander. That could’ve been a top 4 defenseman on a entry level contract had they been patient.

Adam Boqvist was also rushed. The 2018 8th overall pick was thrown to the wolves in 2019-20 and had a 47.38% corsi, 46.43% fenwick, a 46.9% xG, and a 44.92% HDCF. He even made progress next year, but was traded a month before he turned 21 years old for Seth Jones. Boqvist probably shouldn’t have made his NHL debut until this year. Again, could’ve been a top 4 defenseman on an entry level contract.

Kirby Dach is an interesting case because he went straight to the NHL. While the point production wasn’t there with only 23 points in 64 games, the flashes of skill was there that you want to see out of a third overall pick. But, two seasons later, he has just 43 points in 109 games as of writing this, while players from the 2019 draft class like Trevor Zegras and Moritz Seider are having even bigger impacts for their respective teams. You have to wonder what an extra year in the WHL would’ve done for Dach. All this being said, Dach doesn’t turn 21 for another month and still has so much hockey to play.

Onto Lukas Reichel, the Blackhawks are doing the right thing. He could probably be in the NHL right now, but they’re letting him get comfortable in the AHL, recording 12 points in 15 games as of writing this. Reichel shouldn’t be playing in the NHL until next year, but if they’re gonna call him up this season, it makes most sense to do so after the trade deadline if they trade away some veterans for draft picks and prospects.

To sum up the impatience portion, the Blackhawks could’ve had the 12th overall pick in 2021, but instead decided to trade that as well for Seth Jones. They could’ve had a prospect like Cole Sillinger who’s having an immediate impact with the Columbus Blue Jackets, though, again, probably would’ve been better off playing another year in the WHL.

All of this is just the past few years. Phillip Danault, Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Hartman, and Nick Schmaltz, all first round picks from 2011-2014, were all traded at age 23 or younger.

Now, to the drafting portion. Despite trading the 12th overall pick, the Blackhawks still could’ve drafted a prospect with a higher ceiling at pick 32 to help replenish their prospect pool. Example, Logan Stankoven, who went 47th overall to Dallas, has 32 points in 22 WHL games and is on Canada’s world junior team. Aatu Raty is another example, who went 52nd overall to the New York Islanders, has 13 points in 11 games since joining Jukurit and is in Finland’s world junior team.

With all due respect to Nolan Allan, who I hope makes the NHL, the Blackhawks should be prioritizing upside with their draft picks. Defensemen who don’t produce much offense at the junior level, rarely turn into impact NHL players. It seems like that’s all they went for in the 2021 draft. Big defensemen who don’t produce much, which really, you can find those type of players in free agency for cheap.

While historically the Blackhawks have prioritized upside with picks like Teravainen, Boqvist, Dach, and Reichel. I feel they strayed away from that completely in 2021. With a lacking prospect pool that doesn’t have high upside, I hope they swing for the fences in 2022. Yes, they probably won’t have their first round pick, unless they win the lottery, but they still have a second round pick, as well as three third round picks, and who’s to say they don’t acquire more at the trade deadline. You can find skill in the later rounds.

All in all, this new regime with Kyle Davidson has to preach patience. The prospect pool is thin, they don’t have their 2022 first round pick, it’s going to take quite some time to build it back up. Quite frankly, I don’t see this franchise winning another cup with Toews and Kane, as I feel the window has shut close on that, but I think you can build to the future and try to win with players like Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach.

Regardless, I’m very intrigued to see what Kyle Davidson will do and who is hired to help him.