For the first time in a long time, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks heading into the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Thanks to some good luck in the lottery, the Blackhawks were awarded the third overall pick; the highest draft pick they’ve had since they selected Patrick Kane first overall in 2007.
General manager Stan Bowman has been criticized over the years for falling in love with undersized prospects. As you will see, that was not an issue this past June.
First Round (Third Overall): Kirby Dach, C (6-foot-4, 197 pounds)
The Blackhawks have had some past luck with the third overall pick as that is where they have landed stars like Jonathan Toews, Eddie Olczyk and Denis Savard (we will pretend Cam Barker never existed). After weeks of debate among pundits and fans, Bowman ended all the speculation by selecting Dach over defenseman Bowen Byram and talented centers Alex Turcotte and Dylan Cozens.
Dach is coming off a 25-goal and 73-point season with the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League. He has the frame that NHL scouts drool over as well as the hockey sense to go along with the size.
The youngster has no problem scoring goals, but he prefers to pass the puck rather than shoot. This could change over time as he gains more confidence in his shot. While he moves well for a bigger player, he is not exactly fast. He also needs to work on winning more faceoffs, but at just 18 years of age, Dach has plenty of time to improve in these areas.
Dach did stand out at the Blackhawks’ recent development camp and not just because of his size. He showed off his skill set and proved to be a matchup nightmare during certain drills.
It is uncertain when Dach will make his professional debut, but he is heading into his first NHL training camp in the right frame of mind.
“I think the biggest pressure is going to come from myself,” Dach said after the first day of development camp. “I know that kind of stature of being the third overall pick. There’s going to be some pressure behind it but I kind of just flush it out and the only pressure that’s going to come from my performance is going to be [from] myself because I know how good I can be every day, and I need to strive for that excellence.”
Second Round (43rd overall): Alex Vlasic, D (6-foot-6, 199 pounds)
Bowman continued his theme of drafting size when he selected Vlasic in the second round. The 18-year-old blueliner should be very familiar to local scouts as the Wilmette, IL native played for the Chicago Mission AAA program before joining the U.S. National Team Development Program. If the last name rings a bell, it should as Alex is the cousin of San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Usually, when you are dealing with a young player who is so tall, skating is an issue, but this is not the case with Vlasic. He moves very well for a big man, both backward and forwards. He is positionally sound and his long reach will be a weapon.
Vlasic is definitely a project and is a couple of years away from even thinking about going pro. He still needs to add some meat to his bones, become more aggressive and gain confidence in the offensive zone. Fortunately, he will have plenty of time to do that playing at Boston University over the next couple of seasons.
Fourth Round (105th overall): Michal Teply, RW/LW (6-foot-3, 187 pounds)
After not having a pick in the third round, Bowman double-dipped with a pair of fourth-round picks. He used his first pick to select Teply, a large forward out of the Czech Republic. As long as the Blackhawks are patient with him, Teply could turn out to be quite the steal.
Teply excelled in international play for the Czech Republic, scoring nine goals and 29 points in 25 games for their U18 national team. He also played a combined 13 games for the U19 and U20 teams where he put up four goals and two assists.
Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects described Teply as a “poor man’s Patrik Laine.” He has a wide variety of shots; all with a great release. He is also heralded for his excellent stickhandling and passing skills. He both shoots and passes with great accuracy.
He does need to work on his skating, defense and making better use of his size. He will get plenty of time to do just that playing for the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL starting this fall.
Fourth Round (123rd overall): Antti Saarela, LW/RW (5-foot-11, 183 pounds)
Just 18 picks later, Bowman selected Finnish-born forward Antti Saarela. If that name also sounds familiar, it is because he is the younger brother of Aleksi Saarela, who the Blackhawks acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes a couple of days after the draft.
Saarela, the only player under 6-foot selected by Bowman this year, does like to play with a bit of edge. He is never afraid to finish a check and brings great energy to the ice. However, he is not purely an “energy guy,” he can find the score sheet on a fairly regular basis too. Saarela scored two goals and added eight assists in his 24 games in Finland’s top professional league last season.
Sixth Round (167th overall): Dominic Basse, G (6-foot-5, 174 pounds)
After sitting out of the fifth round, Bowman used his sixth-round pick on a goaltender for the second straight draft. He selected Alexis Gravel in nearly the exact same spot in 2018.
Basse is a very tall goaltender who posted a 1.91 goals-against average (GAA) and a .924 save percentage (SV%) in 42 games for the Selects Hockey Academy’s 18U Midget team. He is committed to eventually play for Colorado College, where fellow Blackhawks draft pick Josiah Slavin plays, but that will not happen this season. He is likely going to suit up for the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League before making the jump to Division I hockey.
Seventh Round (194th overall): Cole Moberg, D (6-foot-3, 187 pounds)
Bowman went back to the blue line for his sixth and final pick of the 2019 draft. Moberg tallied a career-high 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) for the Prince George Cougars in the WHL. He finished as the team’s top-scoring defenseman and third overall in points on the team. That was a pretty impressive jump after putting up just 12 points in his first 68 games for the Cougars.
Our own Dayton Reimer named Moberg one of the top sleeper picks out of the WHL before the draft and compared him to a former fan favorite in Chicago:
Moberg also has experience playing forward, which draws some comparisons to Dustin Byfuglien. They’re not terribly far off, either. Moberg is 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds, has a booming, right-handed shot and has comparable stat lines. In 2003, Byfuglien had 39 points in 56 games with the Cougars and Brandon Wheat Kings.
The biggest concern, which may cause some teams to rethink using a high pick on him, is Moberg’s plus/minus stat. His minus-33 was one of the lowest in the WHL. However, only three teams managed less wins than Prince George, and only one scored less goals. Moberg’s accomplishments came almost in spite of his team. Although currently ranked near the end of the draft, he could develop into a powerful offensive defenseman. After all, Byfuglien was taken in the 8th round.
It is quite obvious that Bowman wanted to add size and scoring to his prospect pool and he appears to have done just that. Dach will be the first to make his debut in Chicago and that could come as soon as this season. The rest of the class will need some time to develop but it will be fun to track over the next couple of seasons.