Blackhawks 2021 First Round Draft Targets: Forwards

With the Stanley Cup Final now a thing of the past, the rest of the National Hockey League is gearing up for a fast-paced and hectic offseason. Just before the start of the 2020-21 season, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman released a letter to the fan base that the team was entering a rebuilding phase. A quick way to go from a rebuilding team to a contender is by hitting on your draft picks, especially in the first round.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide

Bowman and the Blackhawks are in a situation where they could target any position on the ice with their first-round pick and fill a need. The team needs some dynamic goal scorers, savvy defensemen, and a franchise goaltender. All three of those types of players will be available when they select 11th overall on July 23. Today, we will look at the five forwards that will potentially be available and why the Blackhawks should consider drafting them.

Mason McTavish, C, ECH Olten (6-foot-2, 207 pounds)

Had the draft happened earlier in the spring, McTavish would be right for the picking at 11. However, there is an excellent chance he won’t be on the board as some mock drafts have him going in the top five. So, if he is available and the Blackhawks are targeting a forward, they should run to the podium to add him to their prospect pool.

McTavish was one of many players who needed to find a different way to get on the ice since the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) never got their season going. He traveled back to Switzerland, his birth country, and played 13 games with EHC Olten, scoring nine goals and 11 points. He turned heads at the IIHF U18 World Championships, where he had five goals and 11 points in seven games, leading Canada to a gold medal. These two performances got him ranked as the second-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.  In his lone OHL season with the Peterborough Petes in 2019-20, he scored 29 goals and 42 points before the league shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mason McTavish Peterborough Petes
McTavish would look great in a Blackhawks sweater. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

McTavish has the frame and size that NHL teams want to play down the middle. He is already over 200 points at just 18. He does the things you’d expect from a prototypical power forward; battles for loose pucks and gets to the front of the net. But he is more than just a big player. He skates very well and great hands to go with an accurate shot. He also works just as hard in the defensive zone as he does when his team has possession.

Not only does he have the physical skill set, but McTavish also possesses a great hockey mind. He seems to always make the right play at the right time. He knows just when to fire off a quick shot or set up a teammate with a tape-to-tape pass. His motor never seems to stop, and he constantly wants to have the puck on his stick and works hard to get it. The Blackhawks would be extremely fortunate if he falls to the 11th slot.

Fabian Lysell, RW, Luleå HF (5-foot-10, 168 pounds)

Lysell is another player who probably won’t be available when the Blackhawks are on the clock, but there is a chance that he will be. Most scouts have him within their top 10, but the first round will always have a few surprises, as we know. Our own Peter Baraccchini has him 5th in his final draft rankings.

The first thing that jumps off the page about Lysell is his confidence in himself. He demanded to be released from Frölunda HC’s junior team so he could make the jump to the SHL after he scored three goals and 13 points in 11 games. He scored two goals and three points in 26 games for Luleå HF. Don’t let those numbers fool you because he is a highly skilled and exciting player. It is tough for a teenager to get meaningful playing time in Sweden’s top professional league, so he made the best of the little time he got.

Lysell is a dynamic offensive player, the exact type the Blackhawks lack right now. His smooth skating and elite speed make him dangerous. When you throw in his quick hands and elite playmaking ability, you have a pure difference-maker. He has the smarts to go along with the skill as he always seems to make the right play.

His motor is always running at a high gear as Lysell constantly plays at a high pace. His vision allows him to spot teammates, and his passing touch gets them the puck even in tight spots. He skates fluidly through the neutral zone and uses his speed to get back and support his defensemen. His skill set fits today’s NHL perfectly.

Chaz Lucius, C, U.S. National Development Team Program (6-foot, 183 pounds)

If Bowman wants a forward in the first round, Lucius might be the odds favorite, especially when you look at his recent draft history. The Blackhawks have drafted a player out of the USNDTP in each of the last five years, including two in 2020 (Drew Commesso and Landon Slaggert).

Lucius would give the Blackhawks more depth down the middle, which you can never have too much of.  A lower-body injury limited him to just 25 total games this past season, but it didn’t limit his production. He had 13 goals and 20 points in 13 games for the U18 National Team while putting up 15 goals and 18 points in 12 United States Hockey League (USHL) games.

Chaz Lucius of the USDP
Lucius should be near the top of Bowman’s draft board. (Photo: Rena Laverty)

The Blackhawks need more players who can put the puck in the net, and Lucius is a natural finisher. He isn’t a one-trick pony by any means, as he can beat the goaltender in many different ways. His shot, whether it be his backhand, wrist shot, or one-timer, has a quick release and deadly accuracy. No matter the fashion of the shot, it is always off his stick in the blink of an eye, which makes him dangerous from anywhere on the ice. This is a skill that will serve him well at the professional level.

His biggest downside is his skating and speed. Thankfully, for Lucius, these things can be improved with better mechanics and techniques. He is committed to the University of Minnesota in the fall, where he will get the chance to develop playing for one of the top programs in all of college hockey.

Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls Stampede (6-foot, 187 pounds)

Sillinger has hockey in his blood. His father, Mike, played for 12 different teams over his 18-season NHL career. His two older brothers, Owen and Lukas, have been big contributors at Bemidji State University. Cole has the most raw talent out of the entire Sillinger clan and is expected to be taken in the first half of the opening round.

The left-handed center exploded onto the scene with a huge rookie season in the Western Hockey League (WHL). During the 2019-20 season, he scored 22 goals and 53 points in 48 games for the Medicine Hat Tigers before the season was wiped out. Due to the uncertainty of the start of the 2020-21 WHL season, Sillinger was loaned to Sioux Falls in the USHL. In 31 games for the Stampede, he scored 24 goals and 46 points.

When watching game tape on Sillinger, it does not take very long for his wrist shot to stand out. He has a very accurate and hard shot with an absolutely deadly release, and it is one of the best in the entire 2021 draft class. He plays hard when he doesn’t have the puck. He is not afraid to mix it up along the boards and drive hard to the center of the ice and the front of the net. He is constantly looking to create plays for himself and his linemates.

Sillinger’s biggest weakness is his skating and acceleration. He made improvements in both and his agility during his season in the USHL but still has some work to do to compete at the game’s highest level. However, he counters this with his deception and high hockey IQ. He sees the play unfold before it does and creates offense. Some scouts have compared his game to Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets. He will not be ready to challenge for an NHL spot for a couple of years, but the wait could be well worth it.

Xavier Bourgault, C/RW, Shawinigan Cataractes (6-foot, 172 pounds)

The final forward on our list comes from a league the Blackhawks don’t do a lot of business in; the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Since Bowman took over as general manager in 2009, he has only selected eight players out of the QMJHL, with three of those coming in 2018 (Nicolas Beaudin, Phillip Kurashev, and Alexis Gravel).

Bourgault debuted with the Cataractes as a 16-year-old and scored seven goals and 20 points in 62 games during the 2018-19 season. He exploded in his sophomore effort with 33 goals and 71 points in 63 games. He was tied for the most points in the entire league by a player under 18.  He appeared in 29 games this past season and produced 20 goals and 40 points. His 1.38 points per game average was the best of all QMJHL draft-eligible players.

There is little doubt that Bourgault can score from anywhere on the ice with his quick release and accurate shot. However, he is even better and setting up his teammates. He has elite vision and can find the passing lanes before they open. The combination of his playmaking skills and shot make him a very dangerous player, especially on the power play.

Like most players at his age, Bourgault needs to make improvements in his skating and defense. He tends to get himself out of position at times and doesn’t have the speed or agility to make up for it at this point in his career. He has been known to look to cheat and lead the breakout back into the offensive zone, which has gotten himself and his team in trouble. These are things that can be worked out with coaching and proper development. These weaknesses are not big enough to keep him out of the first round of the draft, as his play in the offensive zone is fantastic.

If Bowman and the Blackhawks want to add another forward in the first round, they will have the chance to add a top-rated player to the organization. If McTavish or Lysell fall to the 11th spot, they should jump on them. If not, Lucius, Sillinger, and Bourgault give you solid options. Now that we’ve covered some potential forward targets, we will move on to defensemen and goaltenders next.

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