The current unfortunate state of the Chicago Blackhawks has fans asking, “What went wrong?” It’s a question that has a complex answer, to say the least. While there are many different directions to point the finger at, I want to dive into something that I believe has been a big contributor up to this point: drafting.
Blackhawks general manager (GM) Stan Bowman has been at the helm since 2009. Like any GM, he has had his fair share of good picks and bad picks. On the good side, drafting forward Alex DeBrincat in the second round in 2016 was a steal, as well as drafting forward Teuvo Teravainen in the first round in 2012.
Related: 2008 NHL Draft: 5 Forgotten Picks
On the bad side, drafting forward Mark McNeil in the first round of 2011 was a bust, as well as drafting center Graham Knott in the second round in 2015. Moreover, there is one draft year in particular that I believe really stands out as not one of Bowman’s finest moments: 2014. Here are some of his picks from that year.
Round One, Pick 20: Nick Schmaltz
Nick Schmaltz is someone who was an attractive pick. He was picked as a prospect who was supposed to lead the new generation of Blackhawks centers and it didn’t pan out. He did well in his first full season with the team in 2017 with 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists). But, the following season, he only put up 11 points (2G, 9A) in 23 games before he was ultimately traded to the Arizona Coyotes. His faceoff percentage for his time here is 38.3%.
The kick was that Schmaltz was putting up weak numbers playing on a line with Patrick Kane, which is unusual because Kane is known to make anyone he plays with better. Another kick is that 2018 was the season that the Blackhawks really started to go downhill, and Schmaltz wasn’t contributing to the solution, which ultimately made him expendable. You want to see your first-round pick be the answer, and it’s disappointing that it turned out the way that it did.
Round Three, Pick 88: Beau Starrett
Beau Starrett is someone who reminds me of Kirby Dach in size. Dach is 6-foot-4 and Starrett is 6-foot-5. With that, Starrett fits the mold of what the Hawks gravitate towards, which are big-bodied centers. He went on to play at Cornell University, but only put up 40 points in a four-year span, which is not ideal. However, what was ideal was his faceoff percentage at 53.9%. In the end, the team decided not to offer him a contract and he is currently on the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League.
Round Four, Pick 98: Fredrik Olofsson
Fredrik Olofsson was drafted as a center/left wing from the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League, where he had 60 points in 57 games during their 2014-15 season. He then went on to play for the University of Nebraska-Omaha where he had 78 points during his three seasons there.
The Blackhawks’ affiliate team, the Rockford IceHogs, then offered him a professional try out where he registered zero goals in two games and was a minus-two — not good enough. He is currently playing overseas in Sweden with MODO Hockey.
Round Four, Pick 128: Andreas Soderberg
Andreas Soderberg is a defenseman who was 18 years old at the time he was drafted, so he was definitely a “for the future” pick. The thing that jumps out to me about him was his stats prior to when he got drafted. His plus/minus stats were very good, which is what you want to see. I think he had some potential, but unfortunately, he never made his way to play in North America. He is currently playing in Sweden for Timrå IK.
Round Six, Pick 178: Dylan Sikura
Dylan Sikura is a skilled left-wing prospect that felt like a breath of fresh air to Hawks fans because he was first introduced during that miserable 2018 season. He made his debut having come straight from Northeastern University, where he had 146 points during his four-year tenure. Since then, he has flatlined on the big stage.
In 47 NHL games, he only has one goal and 14 points. He has since been playing for the IceHogs, and that is where he continues to shine. He was named the IceHogs “Rookie of the Year” last season and has remained one of the team leaders in points and goals. For whatever reason, it hasn’t translated to the NHL. I don’t know if it is one of those circumstances where he may need a new system to fully thrive or what the case may be for him. But, he definitely leaves you perplexed because of what he could be.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that the 2014 Draft occurred during the Blackhawks’ amazing run where the following year, in 2015, the team won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. With that, they weren’t necessarily drafting on the basis of needing “NHL ready talent.”
However, the years that a team is very competitive are when it’s crucial to make picks that will be able to fill the prospect pool in a way that will fit their future demand. That is not what these draft picks were able to do. Looking at the current prospects, their forward options are stretched extremely thin. It makes you wonder, “If Bowman would have drafted differently, would the Hawks be in a better position today?”
What if Bowman would have taken forward David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins) instead of Schmaltz? Forward Anders Bjork (Boston Bruins) instead of Olofsson? Forward Viktor Arvidsson (Nashville Predators) instead of Starrett? Even trading up in the third round to snag a very prominent name, center Brayden Point (Tampa Bay Lightning), would have made a difference with the outlook of this team.
Obviously, with drafting, there is no way to be certain about how good certain players will end up being — that is just pure luck. But, missing out on those mentioned four picks I believe is pretty significant. Bowman also had four other picks in 2014 that are nowhere to be seen with this current team.
Again, drafting players is like taking a shot in the dark. You win some, you lose some. It is just concerning that most of those picks ended up not working out. It’s food for thought going forward in hopes that Bowman will play his cards better when they are dealt in future drafts.