Around this time every year, The Athletic ranks each NHL team’s farm system, and every year I eagerly await the results. Last season, the Blackhawks farm system ranked a respectable 12th best in the league by Scott Wheeler’s measure. This season, however, they took a dramatic tumble down his rankings to 24th in the NHL. You can read the full breakdown right here.
Note, that the full article is premium content (be sure to subscribe to The Athletic to check it out in full), so we won’t share everything, but there is still plenty here to dissect on the surface.
No. 24 Chicago Blackhawks: https://t.co/lcgGcK4iPX
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) January 18, 2021
Chicago’s farm system, having graduated Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, and Lucas Carlsson, is led by 2020 first-round draft pick Lukas Reichel and rookie NHL defenseman Ian Mitchell. Outside of those top two players, though, Wheeler finds that the rest of the system is built largely on unspectacular (low-ceiling) talent:
“The Blackhawks’ prospect pool tiers highlight the good and bad of a pool that is both reasonably deep on semi-interesting prospects (they’re the first team to feature a list long enough to extend beyond a top-20 into honorable mentions) but thin on the high-end prospects compared to most other NHL teams.”
Once-highly-touted prospects Chad Krys and Jake Wise find themselves near the bottom of the tiers for Chicago, while three other players – Philipp Kurashev, Brandon Hagel, and Nicolas Beaudin – are currently with the Blackhawks either on the active roster or the taxi squad.
The Blackhawks’ farm system looked very promising just a season or two ago, with players like Boqvist, Dach, Mitchell, Beaudin, Carlsson, Henri Jokiharju and later Alexander Nylander, in tow. Now, due to injuries, graduations, and poor play, the prospect pool is starting to look like it must go through its own rebuilding process. Obviously, the goal of any franchise is NOT to have the best group of prospects, period, but rather the best collection of affordable young talent, whether they retain their prospect status or not. So recent graduations do need to be taken into account, and, indeed, help explain part of the drop, here. But even still, the point remains. For a rebuilding team, the Blackhawks collection of prospects leaves much to be desired.
Reichel is a good start, but he lacks the potential to become anything more than a serviceable top-six forward in the NHL. Meanwhile, Chicago is hoping NCAA prospects like Wyatt Kaiser (University of Minnesota-Duluth), Landon Slaggert (Notre Dame), Drew Commesso (Boston University), and Alex Vlasic (Boston University) can become the kind of player that you can plug into the professional ranks right away from college – think Ian Mitchell – but we’ll have to wait and see.
The Rockford IceHogs will be a proving ground for the Blackhawks prospects this season, with upwards of six players from Wheeler’s article likely to be playing significant minutes for head coach Derek King. This season is proving to be one where the excitement around the Blackhawks will be focused on the future, rather than the here and now.