I remember speaking with Nick Leddy in Rockford years ago about what he’d learned while spending time with the Blackhawks after leaving the University of Minnesota early. If you recall, the Blackhawks acquired Leddy in one of the better trades from Stan Bowman — he sent Cam Barker to Minnesota for Leddy (the 16th overall pick in 2009) and Kim Johnsson.
Leddy signed his entry-level deal with the Blackhawks in July of 2010 and was rushed into NHL action when veteran defenseman Brian Campbell got hurt during training camp in the fall of 2010. As Campbell got healthy, the two spent some time on the ice together. Leddy raved about watching and learning from Campbell, whose game was one Leddy could model his after as he developed as a professional.
At that point it seemed like Campbell was a good on-ice teacher. A good veteran presence who was willing to work with younger guys.
Now a dozen years later, one of the worst kept secrets about the Blackhawks is the role(s) being played by Campbell, who has become a critical part of general manager Kyle Davidson’s inner circle.
Campbell was involved in the head coach search process. He’s had Davidson’s ear from the jump, and has also been working with young players in the organization on the ice as well. In short, Campbell has become a swiss army knife with a skillset that crosses disciplines for an organization making massive changes.
On Wednesday, Scott Powers at The Athletic wrote about the Blackhawks’ development plan for their top pick in this summer’s draft, Kevin Korchinski. And guess what? Campbell is right there, front and center, talking about how he’s working with Korchinski and other Blackhawks prospects, like Isaak Phillips.
Powers cites something Campbell saw in Korchinski’s play that he worked on with the prospect before and during the prospect showcase this past weekend. It’s something he’s also worked on with Phillips over the past year in Rockford.
“Now Isaak comes in and says, yeah, this has benefited me and it’ll benefit your game as well and then we can kind of talk about it amongst the three of us or four of us with every new conversation,” Campbell said. “It’s a very tiny thing that hardly anybody notices, but I noticed that a couple times yesterday, and I’m like, OK, I’ll just give him one thing and then leave him alone.”
Having a guy with 1,082 regular season games played on the back of his hockey card in the group working with prospects is a great asset. And, thinking back to my conversations with Leddy, I easily understand why the Blackhawks are thrilled to have Campbell in the fold.
And when I read some of the things Powers writes about Korchinski, I’m reminded of watching Leddy when he was a comparable age in prospect camps back in the day.
One of the things the Blackhawks have told Korchinski is they don’t want to change every aspect of his game. They love how good he is with the puck, his skating and overall offensive instincts. Campbell mentioned how it excited him that Korchinski is “always on his toes ready to go.” They just want to help him get even better in those areas. And defensively, they’ll spend more time focusing in on areas where he’s lacking in his game.
As we have pointed out and Powers breaks down to open his piece outlining the development plan for their top pick in Davidson’s first class, Korchinski is an important player for the new front office on a number of levels. Not only is he the first player drafted by Davidson’s front office, but he’ll always be linked to the Alex DeBrincat trade — for good or bad, that’s just reality.
But most significantly, the Davidson regime has been transparent about their plan to intentionally take as much time as each prospect needs to develop them and put them in the best position to have a successful transition to the National Hockey League. So the time and effort it takes to get Korchinski to the NHL level, and how he plays once he gets there, will be scrutinized as much as any player the organization has drafted since… well, in recent memory.
Jonathan Toews spent a year at North Dakota before jumping into the NHL. Patrick Kane went from London to Chicago faster than a Concorde. And since those two entered the league the Blackhawks have been focused on winning more than development, which is why we are in the place we are today (read: rebuild).
Having a player with the resume Campbell does on the ice working with prospects is only going to help the process. And he’s shown — both as a player and now as a player development leader in the Blackhawks organization — that he brings a great deal of value to the process.