The Curious Case of the Blackhawks Rebuild- Defensemen

Chicago Blackhawks v Seattle Kraken
Chicago Blackhawks v Seattle Kraken / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

For the past season and a half, the Chicago Blackhawks have been in full rebuild mode. GM Kyle Davidson has a plan and he has not veered from it. But what happens when the wheels fall off of the rebuild bus? What happens when the veterans who are supposed to guide the youngsters are no longer on the ice? I'll tell ya what Kyle Davidson has done- stay the course!

It's easy to say "stay the course," but the reality is that fans don't always get it. Fans want wins, not necessarily growth. And, to an extent, ownership wants wins too, and more importantly butts in seats. Of course, staying the course puts the coach and players in awkward positions sometimes. This group, however, is embracing the rebuild and trudging on.

Recently, I looked at the goalies in this rebuild, and the limited options at this time. This time, it's the defensemen. What's "curious" about this group is that they seem to be ahead of schedule. Typically, defensemen take longer to develop, but at this point, Bedard aside, the defense seems to be ahead of the forwards in terms of development. (And due to injury, have had more opportunity)

Alex Vlasic has been the clear breakout young defenseman for the Blackhawks this year. He is 22 years old and has had limited time with the Hawks over the past two season, having played 21 games during this stint. This year is the first time he has had dedicated minutes game in and game out. Coach Luke Richardson has definitley committed to developing this young man, pairing him with both Seth Jones and Connor Murphy. He has spent the most time with Seth Jones, 252 minutes of ice time. Together, they have a GF% of 66.67%. That is pretty impressive since over half of their starts are in the defensive zone and the Blackhawks faceoff % is sub 50%. The numbers arent' as strong with Murphy, but the duo started in the D Zone 66% of the time. Vlasic has been solid around the net and maintains good position. He makes good, decisive decisions. He is not afraid to put his body on the line, whether stopping a puck or bodying up an opposing player. He is a strong skater with good puck handling skills. The Hawks have a future star here.

Kevin Korchinski is supposed to be the Duncan Keith of the future. He is a strong skating, puck moving defenseman. He is currently 19 years old with a ton of upside. Richardson has wisely placed him on lines with Jones and Murphy as well. While Korchinski is getting 19 minutes of ice time per game, he is getting them with veterans who can teach him. Unlike Vlasic, Korchinski will be expected to produce offensively. In 25 games so far, Korchinski has two goals and five assists. Low for sure, but he is only 19 years old and learning to play at the NHL level. There is a lot of pressure on him. Not only must he be sound defensively, but he must learn to quarterback power play and produce offensively. He is responded well and is getting more comfortable every game.

Wyatt Kaiser is the next young defenseman to receive quality minutes this year. He is 21 years old and in his second season with the Hawks. He played nine games in a limited role last year. This year he has played 23 games with a little over 16 minutes per game on the ice. Unlike Korchinski and Vlasic, most of his ice time has been with Isaac Phillips, another young defeneman and Jared Tinordi, a second tier veteran. Kaiser's stats don't stand out, neither in a good, nor bad way, but you can definitely see the confidence growing. As he has become more comfortable, he is not afraid to use his skating ability to make plays, and he is a very strong skater. If he continues growing at this rate, he will be a solide 2nd or 3rd line defenseman for the foreseeable future.

Isaac Phillips is another young player who has limited games with Chicago over the past few seasons. This year, at 22, he is getting a chance to grow and adjust to the NHL style and speed. He, like Kaiser, is gaining confidence every game. It is becoming more evident that he is an elite skater. He is extremely athletic, quick and has decent puck skills. He is becoming more physical each game; he has 13 hits in his last ten games. If Richardson pairs him with a lockdown defenseman, we could see an offensive side to Phillips that we haven't seen yet. This kid has a very high ceiling.

Finally, due to injuries on the backline, Louis Crevier has found some ice time. Crevier is a 22 year old rookie with a very long reach. He stands 6'8" and weighs 228 pounds. He has played eight games with  Chicago and has two assists. He has four takeaways, largely due to his long reach, and he adds 13 blocked shots. He is a good skater and uses his reach to his advantage. He needs to be more physical on the puck and in the crease to be a mainstay in the NHL. It is early and he will have the rest of the season to make his case.

While some may see the injuries as a problem this year, curiously, they will be a long term boon for the Chicago Blackhawks. There are no expectations this year, other than development. Young players are getting the opportunity and many are making the most of it.