“Speed is going to be a part of our identity.”
That was a statement made by Blackhawks’ Assistant GM of Development Mark Eaton on Wednesday afternoon, one he echoed multiple times in his 10-minute conversation with the media after Day Three of the Blackhawks’ Development Camp wrapped up on the ice at Fifth-Third Arena.
It’s also a sentiment that we’ve heard GM Kyle Davidson relate on multiple occasions since the 2021-22 season ended a couple of months ago.
If you watched the opening night beatdown in Colorado last season, you didn’t needed to watch another Blackhawks game all season to know that that roster was not in the same class as a team like the Avs. And speed was the critical difference.
Elite teams skated circles around the Blackhawks last season, and Davidson has seen enough of that. He has said so on multiple occasions, as has other members of his front office including Norm Maciver.
I’m willing to bet that Davidson and new head coach Luke Richardson discussed the speed of teams like the Avs and Lighting and the lack thereof on the Blackhawks when they sat and watched a Stanley Cup game together the night before Davidson formally offered the Blackhawks’ head coaching job to Richardson.
The ice at the Hyundai Rink at Fifth-Third donned multiple tripods with cameras, and almost every coach had an iPad in hand for video recordings as the four groups of prospects made their way through a bevy of drills, most of which revolved around that five-letter word that you’d better get used to hearing – speed.
Straight-line speed, acceleration in and out of the corner, from blue line to blue line, and cross ice. These were the drills that the Blackhawks deployed for the testing day today, all of which was to get an idea of who has it and who doesn’t.
We saw as much last week when the Blackhawks drafted Kevin Korchinski and Frank Nazar with the seventh and thirteenth picks in the NHL Draft. Both were dubbed blazers on skates in almost all of their scouting reports. I had a keen eye on Korchinski today as I spent much of my time watching the third group that the seventh overall pick headlined. Let me tell you; he can move as advertised.
Eaton had this to say about Korchinski’s first few days in camp this afternoon:
“Kevin’s game in particular, what I’ve noticed, is just how well he moves around the ice. He’s a pretty big kid. Looking at him off the ice and seeing the upside of how much he can fill out and continue to get stronger and grow into his frame is exciting, but the way he already skates and can handle the puck and [having his] head up all the time, surveying the surface or the ice, can make plays. The overall quickness of his game has been exciting to watch.”
Nazar has looked like the burner he was advertised as, too. He’s been good all three days of camp; Tab noted as much when he wrote about the forward prospects on Tuesday.
Eaton was asked about a timeline for Korchinski, something everyone I’ve spoken with since the draft has asked, naturally. Eaton’s answer to that question was impressive, one that Blackhawks fans should be excited about.
“I don’t think we want to get into the habit of projecting timelines,” Eaton said. “I think we’re shifting to having it [prospect promotions] be merit-based, let these guys tell us when they’re ready. We’re not going to rush guys along. I think more harm than good can be done by doing that, so I’d hate to use that cliche of over-marinating, but let’s let these guys gain confidence at the levels they’re at and reach the top of that level before we talk about getting to the next level. I think that’s going to be a philosophical approach.”
Nazar was drafted with the Blackhawks’ pick from the Canadiens last week via the Kirby Dach trade. Dach’s departure signaled the end of a project that some believe was kneecapped by the previous regime and their lack of patience when it came to seeing the development of projects through. As far as Eaton is concerned, gone are the days of rushing prospects to the NHL before they’re ready.
“I think it just gives us more confidence to have faith in the plans that we put together for these guys. We’re the ones that are dealing with them day in and day out, week in and week out, and we get a sense of how far along they are and things they need to add to their game before it would make sense for them to make the jump to the next level. So, I think that with Kyle [Davidson] and the new management, they’re going to trust our opinions in those areas.
For us as a development staff, it’s just reassuring because the last thing you want to do is do great work with a guy for a year or two, and then maybe he’s not quite ready, but we put him there anyway, and it kind of kills the previous couple of years and it’s kind of a two steps forward one step back. It feels like we’re getting away from that, and we’re going to take the patient approach and let these guys tell us when they’re ready.”
Not only didn’t Eaton spell out the end of the Blackhawks’ short-sighted prospect development under the previous regime, but he also made it clear that the organization is ready and willing to walk away from a prospect that isn’t fitting into their vision for the future of this team.
“We’re letting the players tell us when they’re ready and who fits into the identity we’re trying to build,” Eaton said. “If we recognize that players we’ve signed in the past aren’t going to help us strengthen that identity, then we’re not afraid to move on.
It’s one of the things we tell the guys on the first day: it’s great that you’ve been drafted into the NHL, it’s a milestone, but it’s only the beginning. Being drafted doesn’t mean that you’re going to play, that you’re even going to earn a contract someday. It just means that you’re going to have access to the recourses that the Blackhawks have to offer, and it’s going to be up to them to show us that they deserve to be signed. Whether we’ve signed guys in the past that didn’t earn it or not, I think we’ve learned from that, and we’re moving on from that.”
Davidson said at the end of the season that the Blackhawks’ rebuild would focus first on replenishing a baren cupboard of talent within the pipeline. His vision for the rebuild centered around sustained success. With the Blackhawks adding 11 new prospects to the pipeline in last week’s draft and more surely to come in next year’s draft, it’s refreshing to know that the organization is committed to sticking to their vision for the surplus of young talent that Kyle Davidson and his front office are committed to adding.