The Blackhawks’ development camp this year was a glimpse into the future. We saw all 11 of their 2022 NHL draft choices on the ice, but they weren’t alone. Chicago invited a few older prospects to join their latest crop of selections, giving them an opportunity for teenagers to skate with players who had a year or two of college experience or some professional ice time on their resumes.
While we were absolutely impressed by the players Kyle Davidson and his staff chose in this year’s draft, there were a few older prospects who made a strong impression.
And as we consider the next wave of young players who could have a significant influence on the rebuilding Blackhawks, what has become abundantly clear is the Blackhawks may have had a very good draft in 2020.
The 2020 draft was a fascinating time in the history of the Blackhawks. Instead of its usual June timeslot, the pandemic pushed the draft that year to early October. To wrap this draft in context, it came on the heels of Kirby Dach having an impressive run in the bubble “playoffs” but also came at a time when the organization was also becoming painfully self-aware that it was time to turn the page. Two weeks after the 2020 draft, the Blackhawks went public with their rebuild plans.
The cynic will say, “we know how that rebuild turned out,” and there’s a case to be made for that pessimism. But looking back now at the 2020 NHL Draft class of the Blackhawks, a case could be made that the foundation was put in place almost two years before Davidson ran a draft for the first time.
Let’s look back at the Blackhawks’ 2020 draft class now that we have some perspective on the future of the players selected that year informed by this summer’s development camp.
We’ll break it out in the order the players were drafted with their round and overall selection listed with the player’s name.
1 (17) — Lukas Reichel, F
Reichel now has company at the top of the forward prospect rankings in the Blackhawks’ system after jumping into an organization that was desperately lacking high-end skill. He appeared in 11 games last season, burning the first year of his entry-level contract but got enough of a taste of the NHL to know what he needs to work on to stick. He enjoyed a strong first professional season with Rockford and was a highlight leader for the IceHogs. He is the first in what we’re hoping is a long line of forwards Davidson’s front office will be very mindful of developing the right way.
2 (46) — Drew Commesso, G
Commesso was the first Blackhawks netminder drafted as early as the second round since Kent Simpson in 2010, but his future appears to be much brighter than Simpson’s was a decade prior. He’s been the top goaltender for the United States in international tournaments (when COVID didn’t interrupt, which has now happened twice at the World Juniors) and saw meaningful action for the US at the Winter Olympics this past year. He’s the goaltender of the future in Chicago and looks like he’s the goods.
3 (79) — Landon Slaggert, F
If you play for Jeff Jackson at Notre Dame for three or four years and continue working hard to elevate your game, there’s a good chance you’ll get a look at the NHL. And Slaggert has done precisely that. At camp, he skated on a line with the Hawks’ top forward pick, Frank Nazar, and the two future Big Ten rivals had impressive chemistry almost immediately. Slaggert showed physical maturity during the development camp and, though he’s returning for a junior season in South Bend, could be an option to sign with Chicago when this coming campaign comes to a close.
3 (81) — Wyatt Kaiser, D
Kaiser’s game really stood out on the blue line at the Blackhawks’ development camp. His performance caught the eye of Mark Eaton, Chicago’s assistant GM of development, who named him as one of the players who has taken great strides since his selection. A top-pair defenseman at Minnesota-Duluth, he was one of the smaller defensemen in camp (6-0, 172) but played a strong, physical game. I agree with Scott Powers’ sentiments that Kaiser has a legit shot of being a top-four defenseman in the NHL.
4 (110) — Michael Krutil, D
Krutil might be one of the few in this class that doesn’t have a significant future with the Blackhawks organization. He appeared in 21 games with the IceHogs on an AHL contract in 2020-21 and then seven last year before opting to sign with the Växjö Lakers in the SHL. With the overall depth on the blue line, Krutil might be an odd man out.
5 (141) — Isaak Phillips, D
In what, at the time, was a bit of a surprise, the Blackhawks signed Phillips on March 31, 2021. At 6-3 and almost 200 pounds, he brings good size to the ice and can move. After producing nine points in 21 games with the IceHogs during the 2020-21 season, he signed and became a top-pair option for Rockford this past season; he skated with Ian Mitchell a lot, and both improved a lot. He finished his first full professional season with 10 goals and 15 assists in 64 games and also saw four games of NHL action. Phillips has a bright future ahead.
6 (172) — Chad Yetman, F
Earlier this summer, the Blackhawks opted not to sign Yetman and allowed his exclusive rights to lapse. He was supposed to continue the strong pipeline between Chicago and the Erie Otters in the OHL and scored 43 goals in his final junior season but struggled with the transition to professional hockey. He scored three goals in 34 games with Rockford over the past two seasons but spent most of this past season with Indy in the ECHL.
7 (188) — Louis Crevier, D
How often does an organization sign a seventh-round pick? And how often do you see a 6-8 defenseman who can move? Crevier’s size stood out at development camp because, well, he’s enormous. But he also played well and will get a chance to show what he can do as part of the organization now that he’s signed. What will make him an intriguing player to watch is Crevier was the first contract signed while Davidson was the interim GM of the Blackhawks; he put his name on the dotted line on Nov. 2.
So what do we have in summary from the 2020 draft class?
Only two of the Blackhawks’ eight picks appear to be out of the organization at this point. And the other six look like future contributors in the organization.
Three of the Blackhawks’ picks — Reichel, Phillips, and Crevier — have already signed. And two, Reichel and Phillips, have already seen NHL ice time.
And three more — Commesso, Slaggert, and Kaiser — are playing significant roles at high-level NCAA programs. Each has developed their game and body over two years of college hockey and showed well at development camp. Belief is all three could sign when their next collegiate season comes to an end.
This draft class is still young enough that they’ll be, in many ways, the test group for Davidson’s development plan. If Davidson’s rebuild plan is going to work, he will need a stagger of prospects coming into the organization, developing, and matriculating to the NHL. Reichel will likely be the first from this group to be an NHL regular. But Phillips is coming, and the college trio probably won’t need as much time in the AHL before they’re ready for the NHL.