Blackhawks: 5 Thoughts on the Upcoming 2023 NHL Draft

There’s a whole lot of anticipation surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks and the 2023 NHL Draft coming up on June 28-29. Obviously, everyone’s pretty excited the organization received the No. 1 overall pick and the right to draft Connor Bedard. But the Blackhawks also have the No. 19 first round pick, four second round picks, and 11 picks overall. This year’s draft will be another important one for Chicago.

2023 NHL Entry Draft Guide Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli Banner

As we await the upcoming festivities in Nashville, here are five things to ponder regarding the draft and its impact on the Blackhawks.  

Who’s Ready for the Draft?

The Blackhawks recently released a video showing clips from their scouting reports and preparation for the draft, which you can view below. There appears to be a common theme in the organization’s approach, and this clip encapsulates that perfectly.

Related – 2022-23 Blackhawks: Describing Each Player in One Word

Some words and phrases that stand out to me are “size and compete, tough, gritty”.

I love this next one. “I’ve never seen him lose a board battle”. The scouts also stress character, along with being a smart player. It all correlates with the identity the team started building last season; a foundation of being tenacious and hard to play against. They’re working to foster that with the players they select, as they continue down this rebuilding path.

Chicago Blackhawks Celebrate
The Chicago Blackhawks established an identity last season of being a gritty team that’s hard to play against. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sure, skill and talent are something every team wants in their players. But the Blackhawks are identifying certain intangibles as well. The intangibles that are necessary to compete and return to contention. They’ve had great success over the past few drafts, and are touted as having one of the best prospect pools in the league. It’s refreshing to know they have a direct and straight-forward plan in place, and they’re sticking to their path.

Richardson’s Role

The Athletic recently completed a two-part mailbag where they answered questions from readers and discussed the draft, free agency, Bedard and much more. One of the questions was whether head coach Luke Richardson was the right man to usher Bedard into the NHL and to stardom. Blackhawks’ beat writer Mark Lazerus wrote,

Richardson was hired for this reason – to work with young players, to develop them into NHLers, and to build a positive, winning culture in Chicago…he’s a very forward-thinking guy who sees himself as much as an educator as a coach. 

(from ‘Blackhawks rebuild, Luke Richardson, Connor Bedard’s contract: Mailbag, Part 2’, The AthleticCHI – 6/5/23)

Richardson might not have a lot of head coaching experience, but he surprised many with what he got out of his players in his first season as head coach.  And this was a mis-matched group that was essentially built to lose.

Luke Richardson Chicago Blackhawks
Luke Richardson just finished his first season as head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yes, nurturing a generational talent might be a different story. Easier or harder, it’s difficult to say. But I think Richardson has just the right tools for the job. Lazerus further says,

Richardson is from a very different era, but he seems to really understand the modern young athlete, including their emotional needs – something coaches rarely took into consideration when he was a player.

In my mind, the 54-year-old bench boss has proven he’s a very good coach, with the potential to be a great coach. Let’s see what he can do in molding the likes of top prospects Bedard, Lukas Reichel, Kevin Korchinski, Arvid Soderblom, etc. They’ll be learning together as they go. But if all goes according to plan, it should be a fun ride for the players and the coaches.

Latest News & Highlight

The Draft and It’s Impact on Free Agency

Scott Powers of The Athletic had some interesting insight about the draft and how it would affect free agency for the Blackhawks.

Among the Blackhawks’ priorities this offseason, one of the biggest is getting to the cap floor. They’re hoping to get there largely by weaponizing their cap space in exchange for prospects and draft picks. They can afford to take some unwanted contracts off the hands of other teams, which they probably will do.

(from ‘Connor Bedard, free agents, trades and Jonathan Toews: Blackhawks mailbag, Part 1’, The AthleticCHI – 6/1/23)

He goes on to say he doesn’t think the Blackhawks will sign any major contracts this offseason. They might overpay some decent players on short-term deals. He mentions names such as Tyler Bertuzzi from the Boston Bruins, and former Blackhawk Max Domi (traded to the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline). He also references re-signing Andreas Athanasiou, who played for the Blackhawks last season. Sure enough, Athanasiou signed a two-year contract with a $4.25 million annual cap hit on June 7.

Andreas Athanasiou Chicago Blackhawks
Forward Andreas Athanasiou will play again for the Chicago Blackhawks next season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But they won’t acquire any big names, as they will all want long-term deals. The bigger-name players will likely come over the next few years, after the Blackhawks have determined what they have in their own system. From Powers,

Now, in a few years the Blackhawks realize a few of their top draft picks aren’t panning out and they don’t possess enough talent through the lineup, I would expect Davidson to obtain a star player through trade or free agency. Part of his plan in building draft capital was to have some prospects and picks they could move in the future for established players if needed.

Powers estimates Bedard could demand as much as $13 million to $14 million in his second contract, and Korchinski, Reichel, Soderblom and others would all be up for deals around the same time. The Blackhawks are being smart by planning ahead for that, and maintaining cap flexibility with smaller, shorter contracts.

Blackhawks Looking to Draft Forwards

Let’s get back to the draft for a minute. Another question from The Athletic’s second mailbag addressed what position the Blackhawks may be targeting for the draft. The organization has focused largely on defensive prospects in the past few drafts. They also have netminders Soderblom, Jaxson Stauber and Drew Commesso in the system. So, the general consensus is they’ll be looking mostly at forwards, for at least this draft and the next. This will help to round out their prospect pool. Powers agrees.

They’ll draft another another forward with the No. 19 pick this year and likely continue to draft even more forwards in the second round. They have four second-round picks, but we’ll see if they keep them all. And then come next year, they’ll have two more first-round picks again that will likely devote those to forwards. The first of those could be another top-five pick. Eventually, if the Blackhawks don’t have enough top-six caliber forwards in the system, they’ll go outside.

Looking at next season, we can assume Bedard and Reichel will be in the top-six. Tyler Johnson will be there, along with Taylor Raddysh and Athanasiou. I would bet on Cole Guttman slotting in as well. Look for the Blackhawks to also re-sign Philipp Kurashev. If they pick up Domi on the free agency market, he will be in the mix too.

Related – Blackhawks 2023 NHL Draft Targets: Koehn Ziemmer

It might not be the strongest forward group, but that could be what the Blackhawks will roll with in 2023-24. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.

Connor Bedard on TNT

All right, let’s get to what we’re all looking forward to the most! Which is the foregone conclusion that the Blackhawks will draft Bedard as the No. 1 pick. The NHL has a tradition of inviting the top prospects to witness a Stanley Cup Final game before they’re drafted. Bedard, along with Adam Fantilli, Will Smith and Leo Carlsson were in attendance in Las Vegas for Game 2 of the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers series on June 5. (from ‘Welcome to the NHL: Connor Bedard, top prospects see what their ‘dream’ could look like’, The Athletic – 6/5/23)

Bedard was featured on the TNT pre-game show, and this is he had to say about being drafted by the Blackhawks,

Obviously the 17-year-old knew he would be asked this. But he still handled it so professionally and eloquently. It was just exactly the right thing to say. I’m sure Blackhawks fans were thrilled. Not only is this young man a phenomenal hockey talent, but he projects a certain innate maturity and leadership right off the bat.

But Bedard also appears to have quite the personality, with a bit of a jokester side to him. Check out this next clip.

“…and Biz is here too.” I tell you, I love this kid already! The future is looking bright in Chicago!

Related – 2023 NHL Draft Guide

The above gives us an idea of the game plan surrounding the 2023 draft, and how it will impact free agency, next season and the future for the Blackhawks. The organization appears to be on the right path. How long will it take to get back to contention? No one knows for sure. But one thing is for certain; next season should be a fun one as the Blackhawks integrate young and talented new players. Things are getting pretty exciting in Chicago!