Blackhawks 2021 First Round Draft Targets: Defensemen

Two days after the craziness of the Expansion Draft, the now 32 teams of the NHL will get together for the annual Entry Draft on July 23-24. The Chicago Blackhawks own the 11th pick of the first round and have numerous glaring needs on their roster. They are in a unique position where they can target a specific position or just plug in the best player available.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide

We have already gone over the best five possible forwards that could be available at No. 11. Now we will break down the top four defensemen the Blackhawks could be targeting for their first pick. General manager Stan Bowman has selected 17 defensemen over the past five years, including three in the first round. Some may argue that the cupboard is well stocked when it comes to blueliners. However, defensemen in hockey are much like pitchers in baseball; you can never have too many of them.

Simon Edvinsson, LHD, Frölunda HC (6-foot-5, 207 pounds)

Edvinsson is in the top 10 on nearly every pre-draft scouting list. NHL Central Scouting has him ranked as the second-best European skater. After Owen Power and Brandt Clarke, Edvinsson is probably the next best defenseman in the draft. Chances are he will be off the board when the Blackhawks are on the clock, but depending on where the two top goaltending prospects are picked (more on them in the next post), he might slide out of the top 10.

If Edvinsson hasn’t been drafted and the Blackhawks are targeting a defenseman or playing the “best player available” card, he should be the pick. He has a combination of size, playing-making ability, and offensive upside that has him drawing comparison to his fellow countryman, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He spent the 2020-21 season between all three levels of Swedish hockey. With Frölunda HC, he had a goal and six points in 14 games. He picked up one assist in limited ice term during his 10 games in the SHL. He was also loaned to Västerås IK in HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s equivalent of the American Hockey League (AHL), where he had five assists in 14 games.

Edvinsson skates exceptionally well for a player of his size. He has the mobility that today’s defensemen need and has the size of a throwback defender. He uses his size to his advantage by pushing players off the puck and using his reach to force turnovers. He is an excellent passer and facilitates well on the power play, but he still needs to improve on his shot to become a complete special teams weapon.

Luke Hughes, LHD, U.S. National Team Development Program (6-foot-2, 176 pounds)

Much like Edvinsson, Hughes will likely not be available at No. 11, but you never know how things will shake out. Luke is the younger brother to both Jack and Quinn. Consider both of their teams, the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks, pick ahead of the Blackhawks, it will be a surprise if he is still on the board.

However, Bowman should do backflips if Hughes falls to them, especially since our own Matthew Zator has him ranked sixth overall. His most prominent attributes are his skating, mobility, and offensive awareness, three things NHL general managers look for in their top blueliners. He is a smooth skater who gets up to full speed with little effort, and once he’s there, he is hard to stop.

Hughes uses his size well to protect the puck and excels at zone entries. He has quick hands that help him get through heavy traffic. The young defender is an accurate passer and can quickly deliver a crisp pass to the tape of a teammate’s stick. He is also very good at the breakout pass, which helps his team get out of the defensive zone and get up the ice quickly. He has a great shot, as well, and is never afraid to show it off.

Scouts are a little nervous about his decision-making while playing defense. His love for joining the rush has gotten him out of position, allowing high-danger scoring chances against his goaltender. He did show improvement in this department during the season while still putting up 10 goals and 49 points in 56 total games for the USNTDP. He will have plenty of time to become a better all-around defenseman as he will play for the University of Michigan starting in the fall.

Carson Lambos, LHD, Winnipeg Ice (6-foot-1, 201 pounds)

Edvinsson and Hughes being available at No. 11 would be a surprise. Lambos not being on the board when the Blackhawks are on the clock would be an even bigger surprise. He is the best of the next group of defenders after the top four of Power, Clarke, Edvinsson, and Hughes. He is the 11th ranked North American skater by NHL Central scouting after a season split between Finland and the Western Hockey League (WHL).

In 2019-20, his first full WHL season, Lambos had eight goals and 32 points in 57 games. The 2020-21 season was a trying experience. With the delay to the start of the WHL season, he was loaned to the JYP program in Finland. He played two games in Liiga before being sent down to the junior teams. He had two goals and 11 points in 13 games for the U20 team and three assists during his two contests with the U18 squad. He returned to the Ice, but his WHL season only lasted two games after suffering a season-ending leg injury.

Lambos is an offensive-minded defenseman with a potent slap shot and one-timer. He is very shifty with the puck and can create his own space to get off a shot. When he doesn’t have the puck, he constantly moves around the offensive zone to create chances. Just when defenders expect them to shoot, he can pull off a nice shot fake and move the puck to an open teammate.

In his own end, Lambos is quick to retrieve dump-ins and quickly get the puck back up the ice. He has excellent gap control and is tough to beat in one-on-one situations. He does an outstanding job at keeping the puck to the outside for low-percentage shots. He loves to throw a big hit but has gotten out of position from time to time to lay somebody out. Some scouts have said he has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman and have compared his game to Alex Pietrangelo of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Corson Ceulemans, RHD, Brooks Bandits (6-foot-2, 196 pounds)

From a Carson to Corson, Ceulemans is taking the road less traveled to get to the NHL. While the three leagues of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) have been main targets at the Entry Draft for decades, the Junior A leagues are starting to make a splash, including the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).

Ceulemans has spent parts of the last three seasons with the Brooks Bandits, the same program that produced Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche. In 2019-20, his lone full season in the AJHL, he had five goals and 35 points in 44 games. Last season, he had four goals and 11 points in his eight games for the Bandits. He also had a goal and eight points in his six games for Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF U18 World Championships.

Makar and Ceulemans share more in common than just playing for the Bandits. Ceulemans also plays a fast-paced, offense-first style of hockey. He is a tremendous stick handler who can dance around opponents to create scoring chances. He possesses a tremendous shot from the point and does a great job at making space at the point to fire it off.

However, the comparisons with Makar end when Ceulemans is in his own zone. He struggles at times in the defensive end of the ice. This has scouts a little worried because the level of competition in the AJHL is not as fierce as you’d find across the CHL. His aggressiveness on offense gets him in trouble too. He will need to develop a defensive mindset to go along with the tremendous offensive game. He will have a great chance to make defensive strides playing at the University of Wisconsin that has pumped out numerous top prospects of late.

The defensive group of the 2021 draft class is rather top-heavy. If the Blackhawks should be lucky enough to have either Edvinsson or Hughes slide down the board, they should jump on them. Lambos and Ceulemans give them two interesting options if they want to draft a blueliner in the first round. It will be fun to watch how the first 10 picks shake out and where the Blackhawks decide to go.


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