Blackhawks Take Calculated Risk Acquiring Prospect’s Rights in Trade

A pre-deadline trade between the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem. While it’s typical that the volume of transactions ramps up this time of the year, having to manage a player’s signing rights after you’ve acquired them, isn’t standard. That’s what happened when Henrik Borgström was included in this package to the Blackhawks.

The trade also included some straightforward movement. Brett Connolly, Riley Stillman, and a seventh-round pick are also headed to Chicago. While Lucas Carlsson and Lucas Wallmark depart the windy city for the Florida skies.

As for the potential role each will play for their new franchise, we’ll have to wait and see any land a regular starting spot. Yet, all signs point to Borgström being the key to this deal for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman. The Panthers’ failure to have properly deployed his talent could work in Chicago’s favor as they continue to rebuild.

Florida’s Former First-Rounder

Overlooked by every organization during his initial draft-eligible year in 2015, the Panthers made sure to avoid that same mistake the following year. They selected Borgström in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft with the 23rd pick. With 55 points through 40 games in 2015-16 with HIFK U20 of the U20 SM-liiga, he was a safe bet.

Henrik Borgström, Florida Panthers
Henrik Borgström, former Florida Panther (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Coincidentally, Alex DeBrincat was drafted by the Blackhawks that same year, but in a later round at 39th overall. At the very least, high draft picks are expected to have higher upside and enter the league sooner than those selected after them. However, DeBrincat has since played in nearly 300 NHL games, whereas Borgström hasn’t even competed in a full season.

Path Before the Pros

The Panthers were coming off a 2015-16 campaign when they finished first in the Atlantic Division before they drafted Borgström. Their young core was comprised of players like Aleksander Barkov (20), Jonathan Huberdeau (22), Vincent Trocheck (22), Reilly Smith (24), Nick Bjugstad (23), and Aaron Ekblad (19). Needless to say, they were in no rush to force prospects through their pipeline.

Before cracking the Panthers’ roster, Borgström spent two years dominating the NCAA with the Denver Pioneers. His 43 points through 27 games in 2016-17 landed him second in team scoring. Then, in 2017-18, he completed the climb to the top of that list by accumulating 23 goals and 29 assists through 40 contests.

Current Blackhawk Ian Mitchell played alongside Borgström when they captured a championship for the University of Denver in 2018. That same season, Borgström was named the NCAA’s Forward of the Year, Player of the Year, Scoring Champion, and Hobey Baker Award finalist. It was enough to earn him an entry-level contract with Florida.

“In a short time, he has put together an accomplished career in the college game, including a national championship. We are thrilled to have him take the next step in his development with the Panthers. Henrik’s addition to our skilled, young core of players further strengthens our foundation for success for years to come.”

Despite having signed back in 2017-18, Borgström has only found his way into 58 NHL games to date, and a mere 19 points in that span hasn’t done his reputation any favors. An injury in 2019-20 kept him out of Florida’s Return to Play plans, as well.

Took His Talents Elsewhere

After spending much of the past two seasons with the Springfield Thunderbirds in the AHL, Borgström decided to take his talents home in October 2020 and signed with HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League.

A more consistent workflow seems to benefit Borgström’s numbers. His 11 goals and 8 assists through 27 contests equate to 0.70 points-per-game average, a noticeable jump from the 0.47 pace he set in Springfield last season.

Needless to say, his talent isn’t the problem. Sometimes there are external factors, such as a team’s construction, that get in the way of a player’s ability to perform. Perhaps a fresh audience in Chicago is all that Borgström needs to put on a good show in the NHL.

A Potentially Pricey Purchase

This isn’t as simple as booking Borgström a flight to Chicago whenever he’s ready to return. As he plays in Europe, he remains a restricted free agent in North America. Simply stated, the Blackhawks still have to sign him to a new deal if they hope to slot him into their system.

Reflecting on all the factors at play in this deal, remember that Connolly alone carries a cap hit of $3.5 million until the end of 2022-23, which further illustrates the price Bowman paid for the mere chance of trying to convince Borgström to sign in Chicago.

Also, if you assume the upcoming expansion draft will take care of Connolly’s contract, there are no guarantees there. Just because a player is exposed doesn’t mean they’ll end up elsewhere, and the Blackhawks will continue to cover that cost as long as Connolly remains in Chicago.

It’s not that Connolly is unqualified, but an almost 29-year-old right-winger isn’t really what this rebuilding Blackhawks roster needs. A skilled prospect, however, could help propel those efforts.

Borgström’s Future as a Blackhawk

Until Borgström signs with the Blackhawks, this is all hypothetical at best. That’s what makes this type of deal a risky one. With that said, if Bowman’s confident undertone and explicit excitement in talking about Borgström is any indication, it’s fair to remain optimistic that he will end up in Chicago.

How can you not assume Bowman will do whatever it takes to ensure he comes over after reading a quote like that? He is a former first-round draft pick who deserved such recognition. That he then encountered a less than ideal landscape through his initial years as a pro doesn’t overshadow his skill set. A 23-year-old who has already accomplished what Borgström has means his upside is very high.

While there is no doubt that this was a risky move by Bowman, the reward that awaits the Blackhawks if Borgström signs with the organization will be worth it.

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