This is the second piece in a two-part series looking back on the Chicago Blackhawks’ best draft picks in the last two decades. The first column highlighted 10 players that were drafted from 2002 to 2009, with three different general managers calling the shots. But Stan Bowman took over in July of 2009, right after that year’s draft. This seems a fitting starting place for the modern day draft era of the Blackhawks. Since no one of real consequence was drafted in 2010, we’ll begin with 2011 and move forward from there.
Blackhawks’ 2011 Draft Picks
A few weeks following the 2009 draft, Dale Tallon was demoted from general manager after he failed to properly issue qualifying offers to certain restricted free agents. The miscue cost the team millions in incremental contract expenses. Stan Bowman was therefore promoted to replace Tallon. His first draft choices of consequence began in 2011.
Brandon Saad: (2nd Round, #43 Overall)
Saad spent the majority of his first season after the draft with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit. He did play in two regular season games and two postseason games for the Blackhawks at the tail end of the 2011-12 campaign. After spending the first part of the 2012-13 season with the Rockford IceHogs due to the lockout, he joined the NHL ranks for good when the shortened-season commenced that January.
From there, Saad was the fortunate recipient of a lot of success with his team. The Blackhawks won two Stanley Cups and came one goal short of making a third Cup Final. Saad established himself as part of the top-six forwards, most notably with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on the first line. As a 20-goal and 50-point scorer in his first two full seasons, he felt he was due a hefty raise as a free agent.
Unfortunately, Bowman couldn’t make the math work, and Saad was unceremoniously traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. There he signed a six-year contract with a $6 million annual cap hit. His production carried over for two seasons with his new team as well. So much so that Bowman pursued him back again for the 2017-18 season.
Saad regressed a bit in his first season back with Chicago, but re-established himself as a strong and consistent two-way player the following two seasons. Alas, Saad’s hefty contract caught up to him once again, and he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in Oct. 2020. Saad is by far the best forward the Blackhawks have drafted since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Andrew Shaw: (5th Round, #139 Overall)
Shaw surprised a lot of people with the immediacy of his success, playing half the season with the Blackhawks during the year directly following his draft. That type of transition is rare in the modern-day NHL and is typically reserved for first-round picks.
In his first five seasons with the Blackhawks, Shaw won two Stanley Cups, played in 322 regular season games and another 67 postseason contests. In those games he tallied 135 and 37 points respectively. Like Saad, Shaw was a salary cap casualty and was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in June of 2016. Also like Saad, he did well with his second team and was recruited back to the Blackhawks for a second stint, this time for the 2019-20 season.
Unfortunately, Shaw sustained another of numerous career concussions in Nov. 2019 and didn’t play the rest of the season. Many thought it might be the end of his hockey career. But the 29-year-old isn’t ready to hang up his skates just yet. He’s back for the 2020-21 season, playing his usual hard-nosed style of play.
Shaw is also the energy guy. He plays bigger than his measurables. He brings an edge to the rink that the Blackhawks have been lacking. Time will tell how long he can keep his career going.
Blackhawks’ 2012 Draft Pick: Teuvo Teravainen (1st Round, #18 Overall)
This Finnish forward was a top prospect highly touted for his offensive skill and play-making abilities. Because of his smaller stature, many drew comparisons between him and Patrick Kane.
The then 20-year-old split his time between the IceHogs and the Blackhawks during the 2014-15 season, and then joined them for their playoff run. He contributed four goals and six assists as an integral depth player to help the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup.
Teravainen continued his positive progression the following season, and was therefore the sweetener packaged in the deal with the Carolina Hurricanes to take on Brian Bickell’s hefty $4 million contract. The winger has thrived with the Hurricanes, becoming one of their top producers over the last five seasons. Many see him as the one-that-got-away for the Blackhawks. He’s also the last player on this list of draft picks to win the Stanley Cup.
Blackhawks’ 2014 Draft Pick: Nick Schmaltz (1st Round, #20 Overall)
Hopes were high that Schmaltz would be a high-production, top-six forward for the Blackhawks. He made his debut in the 2016-17 season, and earned a respectable 28 points in 61 games. The following season he established himself with 21 goals and 52 points. He also entrenched himself as a favorite of Kane, with whom he enjoyed some chemistry on the ice. Kane even invited him to train with him in the offseason.
But Schmaltz just couldn’t put it all together with the Blackhawks. A sticking point with fans was that he simply didn’t shoot the puck enough. After starting the 2018-19 season tallying only two goals and nine assists in 23 games, Schmaltz was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in November. He was then sidelined with a season-ending knee injury.
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But the 24-year-old center has enjoyed a re-emergence with the Coyotes leading the team in point production in the 2019-20 season. The team believes in his continued success, as they signed him to a seven-year extension with an average $5.85 million cap hit in March 2019.
Blackhawks’ 2016 Draft Pick: Alex DeBrincat (2nd round, #39 Overall)
He’s too small to make it in the NHL! That’s what everyone said of the 5-foot-7, 165-pound winger. And this is why he was passed up by 26 teams, and twice by 12 teams, before being picked by the Blackhawks.
Their loss was the Blackhawks’ gain, because DeBrincat is awfully good at scoring goals and making plays. In his three years with the OHL’s Erie Otters, he compiled 167 goals and 332 points in just 191 games. And yes, this did transfer over to the NHL level. DeBrincat made the Blackhawks’ roster out of training camp in 2017, and immediately started scoring goals. In his rookie season, he actually tallied one more goal (28) than Kane to lead the team. This also included three hat tricks.
DeBrincat followed that up with 41 goals and 76 points in his 2018-19 campaign. The 23-year-old hit a bit of a production slump in his third season with the Blackhawks, but his underlying stats still boded well for continued long-term success. He’s off to a good start in this 2020-21 season, at the top of the Blackhawks’ leaderboard. It’s safe to say the future looks bright.
Blackhawks’ 2017 Draft Pick: Henri Jokiharju (1st Round, #29 Overall)
There was a lot of excitement around this first-round pick, especially considering the Blackhawks depleted blue line. Sure enough, Jokiharju made the team out of training camp at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. Former head coach Joel Quenneville placed the youngster on the top defensive pairing alongside Duncan Keith. This showed a lot of faith by Quenneville, who was arguably coaching for his job. Jokiharju did well in his elevated role, showing consistency on both ends of the ice.
But the team as a whole stumbled out of the gate, and Quenneville therefore became the scapegoat and lost his job. New head coach Jeremy Colliton had a completely different defensive scheme, and Jokiharju’s skillset didn’t fit into that system. Despite solid possession numbers, he was never truly embraced by the new staff.
In July 2019 Jokiharju was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, much to the chagrin of fans who thought his all-around consistency was much needed by the Blackhawks on the back end. He’s settled in with his new squad as a solid everyday defenseman, albeit on the third pairing. Time will tell as Jokiharju continues to progress whether the Blackhawks made a mistake in letting him go.
Blackhawks’ 2018 Draft Pick: Adam Boqvist (1st Round, #8 Overall)
The 2018 draft involved yet another defenseman for the Blackhawks in the first round. Boqvist is especially known for his offensive abilities. After playing one season with the London Knights of the OHL and being mentored by player development coach Brian Campbell, the organization was feeling quite positive about his progression. Said Bowman before the 2019-20 season,
His progression has been noticeable. I think he hasn’t arrived yet and it’s going to be a process to get him comfortable defending and playing without the puck. He’s such a good skater though that he can influence the play and the biggest thing for a defenseman is, if you have a good gap you can force the other team to do things quick. When you back in a lot, you give them a chance to make plays. His quickness is noticeable and he can use his feet to defend.
Sure enough, Boqvist started the season with the IceHogs. But when the Blackhawks were struggling in early December they decided to fully commit to the youth movement. Boqvist was brought up to the big club, and has been assigned to the top pairing, with Keith as his mentor just like Jokiharju before him.
The 20-year-old is now in his second season with the Blackhawks, learning on the fly. So far his pros are mostly outweighing the cons. He has a very high ceiling, and it will be fun to watch him progress.
Blackhawks’ 2019 Draft Pick: Kirby Dach (First round, # 3 Overall)
It hasn’t happened since Jonathan Toews was also picked third overall in 2006 by the Blackhawks. And the irony is Dach could arguably be Toews’ eventual successor. He’s a center with a big, solid frame known for his two-way play, and he’s shown just that in his short time with the team.
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Dach missed the 2019-20 preseason after sustaining a concussion at the Traverse City prospects’ tournament in early September. But the Blackhawks were patient with him and gave him time to heal. They eased him back into action by assigning him to a three-game conditioning stint with the IceHogs. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 20 against the Washington Capitals. It became immediately clear the rookie was not out of place, and the Blackhawks announced Dach would be remaining for the season on Oct. 30.
His offensive side showed with eight goals and 15 assists in the shortened 2019-20 season. He came back stronger and even more determined after the hockey pause due to COVID-19, and added a goal and five assists in nine playoff games. On top of that, Dach’s defensive play has also been a pleasant surprise this early in his career. He looks to be the all-around player the Blackhawks were looking for, and he’s just getting started.
The Next Generation
Let’s not forget there are some recent Blackhawks’ draft picks who show promise for the future. Ian Mitchell (2017) and Nicolas Beaudin (2018) are two defensemen currently getting their feet wet in their first season with the Blackhawks, as is forward Philipp Kurashev (2018). Defenseman Lucas Carlsson (2016) is seeing time with the Blackhawks in his second NHL season. Forward Lukas Reichel was selected by the Blackhawks 17th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft.
While most players on this second list of Blackhawks’ draft success haven’t tasted the ultimate glory of their predecessors on the first list, there is still plenty of talent here. Most are new to the league and still have plenty of time to craft successful NHL careers for themselves. And hopefully for the Blackhawks.