The Chicago Blackhawks are in a very different place now than they were the first time we took a look at NHL Draft prospects. Back in early February, Chicago had just started to win a couple games, but were looking like it was still a higher likelihood that they would have a good chance at picking inside the top-ten or top-five on the NHL Draft. Now, 36 games into the 56-game season, the Blackhawks are in a playoff chase and the top-five of the draft is much less likely, if at all for Chicago.
Blackhawks are currently sitting in the 14th/15th pick range as one of the last teams to be outside of the playoff picture based on points as the seasons stands as of writing this on March 29th, 2021. With the new draft lottery rules taking fully taking effect in 2022, this is the last draft lottery where a team that is between 12th and 15th place can win the top overall pick. Starting in 2022, teams are only allowed to move up a maximum of 10 spots if they win the draft lottery.
Assuming that the Blackhawks miss the postseason by a small margin, and do not win the draft lottery, here’s three players to keep an eye on in the first round and three in the second round as this summer’s NHL Draft draws near.
Needs: Top-Line Forward, Future Starting Goalie, Top-Pair Defense
Aatu Räty, Center – Kärpät (Liiga)
• 39 Games played (8 games Kärpät U20 & 31 games Liiga) – 6 Goals, 7 Assists
What the scouts are saying: “Raty is a strong, fast center with a powerful stride, a pro frame, and quick hands. He’s at his best when he’s driving the middle lane in transition, attacking confidently off of the wall inside the offensive zone, and working off of the puck to forecheck and win back possession. He’s capable of playing with a lot of pace and attacking the interior. But his decision-making is often suspect, I don’t think he processes the game particularly well, and his good overall skill hasn’t turned dynamic in the last two years, muting his ultimate upside. He looks like more of a middle-six piece than a true top-of-the-lineup driver at this point, and much of the shine has worn off.” – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
— The Draft Analyst (@TheDraftAnalyst) January 19, 2021
Zachary Bolduc, Center – Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL)
• 27 games played – 10 goals, 19 assists
What the scouts are saying: “He can skate well and make highly-skilled plays on the move. He doesn’t have the long-range rifle, but Bolduc has shown he can score goals and do so by capitalizing on his chances in the slot and net area with a great wrist shot. He can see the ice well, making creative plays and moving the puck where he needs to even if that’s not his top asset. His compete is good enough.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic
— X- L'Océanic de Rimouski (@oceanicrimouski) January 23, 2021
Fabian Lysell, Right Wing – Luleå HF (SHL)
• 26 games played – 2 goals, 1 assist
What the scouts are saying: “His speed and puck skill allow him to play fast, regularly burning defenders out wide or pulling pucks through his feet to leap past them to the inside. But he’s also a diligent off-puck player who applies a lot of back pressure, steals and lifts a ton of pucks, and forechecks effectively for a smaller player. His speed is also complemented by impressive footwork, which helps him adjust in motion. Whenever he plays against his age group, his skill tantalizes and he makes a ton happen with the puck. He’s going to need to get stronger to fully tap into his talent, bolster his dangerous release and have the same impact off of the cycle as he does off of the rush.” – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
— Marek Novotny (@MarekNovotny96) March 10, 2021
Mario’s Couch Scouting:
In a bit of a change from our first edition, the Blackhawks have new needs when it comes to their top priority in the draft. With the developments of Nicolas Beaudin, Adam Boqvist, Lucas Carlsson, Alec Regula, and Ian Mitchell this season in the NHL and AHL, the development of Alex Vlasic at Boston University, plus the addition of Wyatt Kalynuk, the defenseman position in the Chicago system has become deeper than once thought.
Shifting the focus in the first-round from getting another top-end defenseman to getting a top-end forward, Räty, Lysell, and Bolduc all possess top-end skills that would bolster the depth of the forwards group in the system. Once thought to be the top prospect in the 2021 draft class, Räty has fallen to a mid-round prospect but his 200-foot game still is his best attribute. Bolduc has the biggest frame of the three and has seen the most ice of the three in shortened 2021 seasons. Lysell’s speed is enticing, but I would prefer Chicago take a forward that has decent size and skating over a prospect that will need to get stronger before becoming a solid NHL-level talent.
Needs: Top-Four Defense, Future Starting Goalie, Top-Six Forward
Scott Morrow, Defenseman – Shattuck St. Mary’s (Minnesota Prep)
• 22 games played – 6 goals, 25 assists
What the scouts are saying: “His raw tools in combination with his physical frame are among the best in the class. The Shattuck St. Mary’s star has been catching the eye of scouts and analysts alike since last season. Morrow plays with such a cerebral mindset, looking to attack at all times. Rarely allowing the game to come to him, he takes space away defensively with aggressive puck pursuit and tight gaps on the rush. When the puck isn’t on the stick of himself or a teammate, Morrow ensures that it gets there.Multi-lateral mobility and the ability to hit the jets with ease allow Morrow to be one of the most mobile players in the 2021 draft class. Morrow does come with his red flags and the fact that he plays at the U.S. high school level is the most prominent. There will be concerns that he will need time to adjust to the next level but his path will lead him to the University of North Dakota next season.The potential of the 6’2″ right-shot defender is quite high, with a reality that he becomes one of the top two or three blueliners from this class.” – Tony Ferrari, Dobber Prospects
Brett Harrison, Center – KOOVEE U20 (U20 SM-Sarja)/Oshawa Generals (OHL)
• 7 games played – 4 goals, 5 assists
What the scouts are saying: “Although his ability to generate offense cannot be denied, it is Harrison’s full 200-foot game that stands out. Harrison is not a flashy player by instinct, but he is often able to use his skill on the puck to draw attention to him and create space for his teammates. That being said, he has shown significant improvement with his ability to assert himself offensively this year, which is a very positive sign in his development curve. Harrison’s defensive positioning and instincts generate turnovers, where he is then able to use his crisp passes to break out quickly. If he can continue progressing his skating agility and physical play, Harrison projects as a really strong, two-way winger that can play anywhere in an NHL team’s top-nine.” – Jacob Barker – Dobber Prospects
Here's Brett Harrison's first goal in Finland. From his office in front of the net. His ability to work net front (especially on the powerplay) was something that really stood out last year in Oshawa as a rookie. pic.twitter.com/AseT9UVkpn
— OHL Prospects (@BrockOtten) February 6, 2021
Sebastian Cossa, Goaltender – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
• 8 games played – 8-0-0, .945 save percentage, 1.50 GAA
What the scouts are saying: “His athletic toolkit is very intriguing as a 6-foot-6 goalie who can move well for that size and cover a lot of net. He has some quick twitch in his frame in how he moves around the net, and gets in and out of his butterfly. Cossa’s reads are typically good. He loses track of some pucks but usually anticipates the play very well. He can be aggressive with his positioning and take away angles with his size well, even at times being too aggressive.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic
Catch up with one of the top goalies available in the 2021 #NHLDraft with our latest ‘Future Focus’!
— FCHockey (@FCHockey) February 28, 2021
Mario’s Couch Scouting:
The second-round opens up a bit more for Chicago and they could address any need in the middle of the round. If they do end up taking a forward (more specifically a center) in the first round, I’d prefer the Blackhawks look at defense with their second pick. 2021-22 North Dakota commit Scott Morrow is an enticing prospect. He’s all over the draft board depending on who you talk to. I’ve seen him ranked as high as an early-20’s pick and as low as the early third-round.
He has the size and tools of the prototypical defenseman in today’s NHL, but his competition hasn’t been at the highest junior levels as others in the 2021 draft class. In the middle of the second round, you’re not normally going to find plug-and-play prospects, especially defensemen. Much like Vlasic, Morrow could take a year or two to develop at the NCAA level at one of the top collegiate programs in the country before getting a look at the NHL level.
Brett Harrison and Sebastian Cossa are two other prospects who jump all over the various draft boards. Harrison had an impressive rookie season in the OHL in 2019-20, and has stood out in the top Junior league in Finland this season. He has good size and is another forward prospect where his 200-foot game is his best attribute.
As for Cossa, his 6’6″ frame draws you in first, then his mobility at that size in net hooks you. He had a breakout rookie season in the WHL in 2019-20, going 21-6-3 with a .921 save percentage and posting four shutouts. He has started the 2021 WHL season a perfect 8-0-0 with one shutout and a .945 save percentage, allowing two or fewer goals in seven of his eight starts this season. With Dominic Basse and Drew Commesso in the system already, and having signed former NCAA standout Cale Morris prior to this season, the future in net for the Blackhawks may already be in the pipeline. Not to mention the emergence of Kevin Lankinen this season has made the picture a bit more clear, but far from solved.