Tonight the Chicago Blackhawks’ prospects will line up against the Minnesota Wild’s youngsters. We got an early peak at the lineup at the morning skate, and there are some interesting lines and defensive pairs.
The only guy on this list likely to spend most of the coming regular season in the NHL is Lukas Reichel. Many people feel Alex Vlasic could be in play as well, and Isaak Phillips and Jakub Galvas have already seen some NHL ice time in their careers. (Note: Phillips and Galvas will not play in Friday night’s game.)
But the overwhelming number of questions and comments I keep seeing on Twitter are: do we really care about these games?
On Monday we asked fans on Twitter if they were excited about the games. In full disclosure, we asked this before the roster was made public, so we didn’t know which prospects would be involved. But the answers were striking.
The leading vote recipient was emphatically no, with more than one quarter of the voters saying they would determine their level of interest once they saw the roster.
Is this overall pessimism about the NHL product bleeding through into the potential excitement over the next generation being on the ice? Or are fans genuinely not caring about hockey being back on the ice?
We — Blackhawks fans — should care about the game tonight. Not necessarily who scores or who blocks a shot, though I’ll be watching that carefully. But there’s a big reason why we should care.
If you’ve been on this site much this year — heck, since last year’s MLB trade deadline — you’ll note the volume of attention we’ve paid to the Cubs’ prospects. The Cubs, like the Blackhawks, are rebuilding. And we’re not starting to see young players get promoted to the big leagues and show what they’ve got.
When your favorite team is rebuilding, it’s hard to watch the big league product a lot of the time. And this season isn’t going to be easy for Blackhawks fans (spoiler!). But the energy and intentional focus of the front office on developing the next generation — and the one after that — is why a prospect showcase like this is important.
This will be the first time Kevin Korchinski and Paul Ludwinski wear a Blackhawks jersey against another team. The development camp in July was great to watch guys compete, but it felt more like a high school tryout than real game action most of the time. This will also be the first time Cole Guttman competes against professionals and recent draft picks; he won a national title at DU last season but this is the next level.
This is the first game action for Ethan Del Mastro since the World Junior Championship. And it’s against the big(ger) boys, though his roster with Canada this summer was loaded with NHL talent.
Fans should invest some time and energy in seeing how the Blackhawks’ prospects play, not only this weekend but throughout their seasons in juniors, on college teams and with the IceHogs in the AHL.
Because that’s the future.
And, in case you missed it, the future is the focus of the operations at the United Center right now.
General manager Kyle Davidson has given a five-year timeline for the Blackhawks to be “back.” That’s a conservative estimate, buying him time to more appropriately allow players time to develop so when they’re truly ready for the NHL they get their chance, not as soon as they sign their entry-level contract (cough, Kirby Dach, cough).
There’s strength in numbers, and the Blackhawks certainly appear to have a good group coming defensively with an experienced group in Rockford this season and some other recent picks — like Korchinski and Del Mastro — looking like the real deal… in practice. And their coming seasons will show us a great deal about how they’re taking the necessary steps to become NHL players.
But how well, and how quickly, these players develop is what will directly impact the rebuild timeline.
So why do we care about these games? Because, for the same reasons we write about Pete Crow-Armstrong and other top Cubs prospects, this year is going to be about how well the next layer of prospects is building the future of the Chicago Blackhawks. And tonight (and Sunday afternoon) will give us a glimpse of how some of the talent Davidson is collecting look together on the ice.