Blackhawks Hagel Trade Signals Start of the Rebuild

When Kyle Davidson was introduced as the 10th general manager (GM) in Chicago Blackhawks history on March 1, he described his process for developing the team’s future as a “rebuild” as opposed to a “retool.” On March 18, he made his first trade in doing exactly that. Davidson traded forward Brandon Hagel, along with 2022 and 2024 fourth-round picks, to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forwards Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, and Tampa Bay’s 2023 and 2024 first-round picks.

Through his gritty yet energetic style of play, Hagel became a fan favorite in Chicago and was a solid contributor in the Blackhawks’ top-nine forward group despite the team’s woes. He recorded 24 points in 52 games during the 2020-21 season and has 37 points, including 21 goals, in 55 games this season. Although Davidson made it clear the Blackhawks were rebuilding a few weeks ago, many — myself included — assumed Hagel would stay through the deadline given his age and potential.

While, at first glance, losing the 23-year-old forward might’ve been tough for some Blackhawks fans to swallow, Chicago received a solid haul in return. Not only does this trade cement Davidson as bold and forward-thinking, but it also shows his willingness to embrace the rebuilding process, even if the final product may take a while to arrive.

Here’s an analysis of the trade from a Blackhawks’ perspective.

Raddysh, Katchouk Add Depth, Youthfulness

Of the three players involved in the trade, there’s no question Hagel was the most established and effective. Since signing with the Blackhawks in November 2018, he has by far outperformed the expectations many had back when the Buffalo Sabres initially drafted him in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL Draft. While, on the other hand, Raddysh and Katchouk haven’t been experiencing the same levels of success Hagel did in his rookie season, they still have time to prove their worth as legitimate NHL-caliber players.

Related: Lightning Acquire Brandon Hagel From the Blackhawks

Raddysh, 24, was a second-round pick of the Lightning in 2016. He’s recorded just 12 points in 53 games for Tampa Bay this year but recorded 29 points in 27 games with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Syracuse Crunch in 2020-21. Katchouk, 23, was also a second-round pick of Tampa Bay in 2016 and has recorded six points in 38 games this year.

Both Raddysh and Katchouk are in their rookie seasons, and their careers have followed similar trajectories. They each played three full seasons with the Crunch after playing their junior careers in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). It’s also worth noting Raddysh played for the OHL’s Erie Otters from 2014-18, where he spent part of his tenure alongside now-Blackhawks forwards Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome.

Taylor Raddysh Tampa Bay Lightning
Taylor Raddysh, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While Raddysh and Katchouk’s NHL statistics may look a little underwhelming, there’s still reason for hope. It’s possible both players could benefit from fresh starts, but the most important thing fans should understand is these are two rookies who have time to grow. They were both point-per-game players at times during their AHL careers, so there’s still a chance they could make a difference — albeit a slow one — in the long run. Corey Pronman of The Athletic described the twosome as below-average NHL skaters who could eventually carve out full-time bottom-six NHL roles, with Raddysh having a little more upside (from ‘NHL trade grades: Lightning add Brandon Hagel to their middle six, send two first-rounders to Blackhawks,’ The Athletic, 03/18/22).

Even if Raddysh and/or Katchouk don’t pan out to Hagel’s level and remain full-time bottom-six forwards, one advantage for the Blackhawks is they are both on cheap contracts and carry average annual values of $758,333 until they become restricted free agents (RFA) at the end of the 2023-24 season. This gives Davidson and the Blackhawks plenty of time to assess both players’ skill levels and to what extent they could become part of the team’s future, if at all.

Given their current lack of organizational depth at forward beyond 2020 first-round pick Lukas Reichel, a more well-established prospect or two would have been nice for the Blackhawks. But, it’s also important to remember that’s exactly what these players were a few years ago. They just haven’t exactly proven their NHL worth yet.

Davidson Takes a Chance with Picks

Along with Raddysh and Katchouk, Davidson received the Lightning’s 2023 and 2024 first-round picks for Hagel. For the Blackhawks, they are still without a first-round pick this summer as a result of the Seth Jones trade — for now, at least. By acquiring these picks for future drafts and not this year’s, it shows Davidson is willing to take an extremely patient approach with the rebuild, even if the results may take a long time to come.

The thing with focusing too much on picks is their hit-or-miss nature. With Raddysh and Katchouk, because they have enough NHL experience, we have a pretty solid understanding of their strengths and what their careers could become. With the picks, we don’t know what those could look like, even as first-rounders. Could either of them be better than Hagel? About the same? Worse? Given Tampa Bay’s current status as a Stanley Cup contender, these picks will probably come toward the end of both drafts rather than the start. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as we’ve seen plenty of successful late first-round steals in previous drafts. It just means that we won’t know for a while what these picks could look like or what they could become.

Kyle Davidson Chicago Blackhawks
Kyle Davidson Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

In general, the nice thing about this trade for the Blackhawks is acquiring Raddysh and Katchouk gives them two NHL-ready players who could make an immediate impact while the picks are some additional assets to work with in the future. For better or for worse, this epitomizes what a rebuild should look like — being creative with the future while also allowing for some sense of clarity.

Final Thoughts & Blackhawks’ Grade

Last month, when asked about the possibility of a trade and his value, Hagel jokingly responded with, “Two firsts, couple prospects? [Connor] McDavid, maybe? I don’t know.” Well, he just so happened to be pretty accurate three weeks later, with the exception of arguably the NHL’s premier player.

All things considered, it was a solid return for the Blackhawks in Davidson’s first move as GM. Because Hagel is only in his mid-20s and potentially still years away from reaching his prime, he would’ve been a great building block moving forward and could’ve perfectly fit Chicago’s rebuilding timeline. However, Davidson was clearly impressed with the return and smartly decided to take advantage of it, even if the results are uncertain right now and might take a little while to arrive. For a player of Hagel’s caliber, young but promising, two first-round picks alone would have been enticing, so the fact Davidson was able to get Raddysh and Katchouk should be seen as a positive.

More importantly, this trade shows Davidson’s willingness to be bold and stay true to his words of “rebuilding” the Blackhawks. Before this trade, players like Dominik Kubalik and Calvin de Haan seemed more likely than others to go (and, of course, still could) due to their places on the team and uncertainties of how they might fit in the future. More or less, though, this shows that just about anything could be on the table for Chicago as they work back toward prominence.

Hagel’s a great young player. We haven’t seen enough of Raddysh and Katchouk yet to know how much of an impact they could make on the Blackhawks, but both could be solid pieces even if they project as mostly bottom-six forwards. The thing is, with rebuilding, you have to give up great value in order to get great value. For the most part, that’s exactly what Davidson did as Chicago begins prioritizing the future over the present.

Blackhawks’ Grade: A-

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