What Pieces do the Blackhawks Already Have in Place?
By Kyle Graden
In 22 days, we will know where we stand in the draft order for the June draft in Nashville. I, like most, will start to theorize and speculate about whom Kyle Davidson will target and whom would be a potential fit as a long term piece for the next wave of Blackhawks.
This season the Blackhawks fully turned the page on the dynasty era Hawks, saying goodbye to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. That means that we as fans will now start to look towards the future on whom could potentially step into big roles at the United Center.
With the next 3 drafts, ones in which we have many top selections already, we will likely fill out most of the next core. Still, whom do we already have (potentially)?
This season, as well as in Rockford, we saw growth in Lukas Reichels' NHL potential. The 20 year old forward was tremendous in his final NHL callup showcasing playmaking traits that indicate a top 6 NHL future. In just 23 games this year, Reichel netted 7 goals and 15 points. If he keeps on that pace for a full 82 next year that means we have a 50-55 point wing on our hands.
Lukas Reichel looks like a top 6 wing moving forward. Another young forward to hope is around should be Philipp Kurashev. Shevy, depsite similar production from last season, has demonstrated (albeit inconsistent) very good offensive skill. His in tight hands and ability to keep offensive plays alive has improved this season. At just 23 years old still I believe a deal with a little term could keep him in a middle 6 role for the foreseeable future.
Former University of Denver great Cole Guttman wasn't a name on anyone's radar last year, but he should be now. Signed as a drafted free agent (Tampa Bay), Guttman has proved he can score at the NHL level in a third line scoring wing position. I believe, as he just turned 24 a week ago, that Guttman has a place as a bottom 6 scoring option on this team moving forward.
When it comes to some of our recently drafted forwards in the CHL, I do believe it's too early to tell. Colton Dach, Jalen Luypen, Paul Ludwinkski, Aiden Thompson, and Samuel Savoie is the group that has the potential to jump into important roles with the Blackhawks, however there still is a lot of growth that needs to happen.
When we look at some of the recent ELC signings, you can see some obvious players that will get a look at important roles moving forward. Drew Commesso is the big one. After 3 seasons as the Terriers netminder, Commesso should come into Rockford looking to learn a new team quickly. He is steady and technically sound at his position and I believe is on a 2 year plan to try and take hold of the Blackhawks #1 goalie position.
From a forward perspective there is not a more talented player than recent 1st round pick Frank Nazar. Coming off injury into a late NCAA season with one of the best teams in the nation, Nazar came into a situation where he didn't need to carry an offense. He produced 7 points in 13 games and at times looked like his USDP self. The speedster is oozing talent in the offensive zone and will have a big role at UM next year. I expect a big year as a Hobey Baker award candidate next season at Michigan. In terms of NHL projection, while very early, the belief is his IQ and speed will translate into becoming an NHL top 6 forward. At center or wing though who knows at this point.
If there was an award for most suprising prospect then it'd be the second acquired player in the Kirby Dach trade: Flint LW Gavin Hayes. Coming off a 41 goal (in just 66 games) season, Hayes should continue to dominate the competition. When he eventually gets to Rockford I expect a quick transition to a Hawks' role as a good sized scoring LW. If I had to guess right now, I'd say a second line LW spot for Hayes is not out of the question.
Lastly, when looking at potential long term pieces already in place, let's discuss Ryan Greene. The second round pick was better than advertised as a freshman. His game shows compete, skill, two-way ability, and the trust to play in all situations. That's a lot of praise for Greene and it has been earned. While I don't see a dominate 1C NHL player, I do think he has the potential to be a middle 6 center at the highest level. Future 2C? Perhaps.
Now comes the meat of the title question: Which pieces are already in place? Defense. Kevin Korchinski is an A+ prospect at this point. Yes, we must remain patient but he already looks like the power play QB for the Hawks. A future top pairing LD and dyanmic skater, Korchinski jerseys (likely #14, sorry BK!) could be a big seller at the team store sooner rather than later.
The second blue liner I want to single out is Alex Vlasic. He should be with the Blackhawks most of, if not the entire season in 23-24. The 6'6 defenseman is a stay at home, long reach, steady defender. He will never be a huge point getter but looks like an outstanding compliment to a more offensively inclined partner.
Ethan Del Mastro has risen from middle round pick, to Team Canada inclusion, to important piece everywhere since then. Del Mastro has a little bit of everything to his game and while I don't see him as a star player, I think his NHL future lies in that 4th/5th defenseman career. Perhaps a Calvin de Haan type of career (not the same type of player though) where he is a steady contributor and does have his moments.
Sam Rinzel, Wyatt Kaiser, Isaak Phillips, Nolan Allen, Alec Regula, and Jakub Galvas all have a chance at being good NHL players. Rinzel and Kaiser with the clear edge in talent for the Blackhawks. Kaiser should get a good chance at making the team out of TC for the 23-24 campaign. I liken the situation to Ian Mitchell in that he'll have every opportunity to make a big impact early into his career.
Sam Rinzel on one hand is very far away from what he could ultimately become, however you can see the tools as a big, good skating, right shot defender. He consistently gets out of position and has some turnovers and bad angles in terms of keeping a line though. He also is "hot-headed" at times as well. He will get to Minnesota this summer and I believe that amazing staff should square him away from some of these habits. The sky is the limit for him, this is an elite talent if he starts to hone in some of his less desirable patterns.
Ryder Rolston, Landon Slaggert, Arvid Soderblom, Victor Stjernborg, Filip Roos, Taige Harding, Antii Saarela, Anders Bjork, Joey Anderson, Nils Juntorp, Dominic James, Riku Tohila, Jake Wise, and yes still our 2 KHL wingers that may never come over all have a chance to be future Blackhawks. Will they be long term pieces for us is a different story. I do not think anyone on the above line will be with the organization in 5 years. If I am wrong, than that's a good thing.
To recap here is whom I see as an NHL player for the Blackhawks for years to come:
Forwards: Lukas Reichel, Frank Nazar, Gavin Hayes, Ryan Greene, Cole Guttman, Philipp Kurashev
Defense: Kevin Korchinski, Wyatt Kaiser, Ethan Del Mastro, Alex Vlasic, Sam Rinzel
Goalie: Drew Commesso
When it comes to some of our current Blackhawks like Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, Taylor Raddysh, etc I simply see them as place holders. I think Kyle Davidson is all about maximizing trade return and as soon as any of these guys peak their value; they will be traded. Seth Jones contract is an issue and he is a really good player. Still, his value to this team at this stage of our rebuild doesn't help anyone. As the salary cap goes up and teams can fit more into their fold, Jones should be easier to move. I know his NMC complicates everything however it should be noted that I think the Stars will have both a need for him and could fit him in financially in the future. It's the one team (maybe Colorado as well) I know he'd likely waive for.
That's just 12 players from our current list I feel confident that have a place locked in. I know that some prospects will rise from the ones not mentioned, but one thing is clear from this: We still have a lot of drafting to do!!