Simply stated, the NHL Entry Draft offers an unbridled amount of optimism and opportunity. Current contenders step out of the spotlight and it’s those with the most to gain who inevitably write all the hottest headlines. This year’s event was no different, as the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks made sure to reinforce their relevance.
This edition of Blackhawks News & Rumours will centre around the theme of change. Whether the respective revisions will prove to be beneficial, though, is yet to be seen.
Davidson Maintains Plan to Rebuild
Soon after he was able to shake the interim tag from his title, Kyle Davidson proclaimed his vision for the Blackhawks. Rather than teasing Chicago’s fanbase with the false sense of hope they’d been fed heading into recent seasons, Davidson was ready to own that the franchise was due for a true rebuild.
“There are some things that we really need to fix that are going to take time,” the 33-year-old said Tuesday. “We’re not going to put a timeline on it. Whether it’s three, five [years], I don’t have that answer right now. That’ll be determined as we proceed, but we really need to do this the right way. We’re going to stick to the plan and take our time with it and make sure that, when we get to where we want to go, then it was the result of a plan that was stuck to and not deviated from.”
Those who remained skeptical of Davidson’s claim were offered more than enough proof of where his energy was being directed, after fan favourite Brandon Hagel was shipped off to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2022 Trade Deadline for a return that included prospects and picks.
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Heading toward the 2022 NHL Entry Draft — Davidson’s first in his new role — the Blackhawks knew they had a tall task ahead of them. It was going to be imperative that they found a way to infuse some life into their lacklustre prospect pool.
Organizations can find themselves swirling around the league’s rumour mill at any given time. Yet, those whispers don’t always gain as much noise as Davidson has already been able to for Chicago this offseason. Sticking to his plan, pulling off some key trades prior to and while at this year’s draft certainly set the Blackhawks up for a more eventful day than they would have otherwise enjoyed.
DeBrincat Traded for Pile of Picks
Before supporters could truly grasp the fact that Alex DeBrincat might not be in a Blackhawks sweater next year, with the summer months ahead of them to come to terms with that potential, he was traded to the Ottawa Senators.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, stories about where DeBrincat may end up were far from scarce. As such, discussing the value of his talent aligned. Rumours detailing what the Blackhawks were turning down in response to DeBrincat trade proposals were circulating, all the while.
The guessing finally came to an end when the Ottawa Senators found a way to present Davidson with an offer he clearly couldn’t refuse. Even though the return left onlookers less than impressed.
Parting ways with a proven 40-goal scorer who had barely entered his prime at 24 years old and, yet, had already become a certified superstar should have meant the return aligned. But only gaining three picks in the process, without even seeing a prospect included in the deal, means the pressure is that much more heightened for what the Blackhawks do with those respective selections.
It shouldn’t take long to find out, as the most coveted of those draft picks was this year’s seventh overall. The others included the 39th selection in 2022 and a third-rounder in 2024. Finally finding their way back into this year’s first round of selections, Chicago hopes to infuse added potential into the future of the franchise.
That all said, letting go of a proven all-star that could have been built around for years to come was certainly a gamble. Time will tell whether the risk was calculated enough or overly short-sighted.
Dach Gets Fresh Start in Montreal
As if Chicago hadn’t already made enough news for the day, a mid-draft trade announcement helped ensure that they remained top of mind. Shortly after the festivities began in Montreal, Kirby Dach was traded to the host city for the 13th and 66th pick.
After being selected third overall in 2019, Dach’s lack of meaningful impact became impossible to ignore. Entering the league as a 19-year-old, he enjoyed a rookie campaign that supported his scouting report. Unfortunately, that storyline didn’t maintain throughout the years that followed.
After 152 contests in Chicago, Dach was only able to accumulate a total of 19 goals and 40 assists. What’s worse, the forward has averaged a lowly faceoff win percentage of only 34.6. Numbers that just do not align with the narrative that he could have been the team’s next top-line centre.
With Dach set to be a restricted free agent (RFA) this offseason, there was little to suggest the Blackhawks were prepared to re-sign him. Further fuelling reports that they were looking for a suitable trade partner instead.
Chicago was able to turn a fresh start for Dach into two more draft picks headed their way, thanks to the Montreal Canadiens seeing far more potential in him than his former team was able to at this point. Meanwhile, at only 21 heading into the 2022-23 campaign, he has time on his side to prove why he was selected so high in the first place.
Blackhawks Take Mrázek From Toronto
Not yet having a starting goalie signed into July, with both Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia awaiting their next NHL contracts, seeing the Blackhawks in the mix for a new netminder wasn’t a surprise. What was, however, is who they ended up acquiring and how it helped their trade partner in the process.
Now a Blackhawk, Petr Mrázek brings his entire $3.8 million cap hit alongside him. A total that the Toronto Maple Leafs were happy to clear, as they are in need of all the funds they can find this offseason. Two teams on drastically different paths at the moment, the Maple Leafs let go of the 25th overall pick in the transaction.
Another first-round selection and a committed goalie for the cost of Chicago’s 38th overall pick. Given that they can afford the salary cap implications, improving their prospect pool while rounding out their current roster isn’t the worst thing for the Blackhawks.
Despite Mrázek’s less than impressive stint in Toronto last season, accumulating a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.34 and a save percentage (SV%) of .888 through 20 games played, the 30-year-old has proven far more effective throughout his career. A cumulative record of 140-102-31, 2.64 GAA, and .909 SV% illustrate far more than his small sample size as a Maple Leaf.
That said, the Blackhawks should still find a way to properly prioritize Lankinen. After earning their trust when he was thrust into the role in 2020-21, he deserves to develop alongside the rest of this lineup throughout their rebuild.
Rather than taking the backseat that he was forced to occupy with Marc-André Fleury in town, Lankinen should be able to play as much as he’s willing to with Mrázek there to fill in and mentor him along the way.
Blackhawks Add Three First-Round Picks
After heading into the 2022 NHL Entry Draft without any first-round selections, that Davidson was able to secure three top-25 picks should at least earn him the credit he deserves for upholding his promise to rebuild. The newest names welcomed to the franchise after day one of this year’s draft include Kevin Korchinski, Frank Nazar, and Sam Rinzel.
Whether any of these newcomers can turn into a franchise great is yet to be seen. However, what can be predicted with far more certainty is that the 2022-23 Blackhawks are set to remain closer to the bottom of the league than anywhere near its peak.
The moves that Davidson was able to orchestrate should encourage progress that won’t be felt right away. It takes time to see a prospect reach their potential. Therefore, Chicago failing to find success next season won’t mean nearly as much as how the ripple effect that they set in motion impacts the organization’s future.
Stay tuned. If this is the type of lineup you feel is worth watching, that is.
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