When news broke on Wednesday morning that the Blackhawks traded defenseman Nicolas Beaudin to the Montreal Canadiens, my immediate reaction wasn’t along the lines of “Oh, cool! Who did they get in return?” Instead, the deal simply served as a reminder that drafting poorly one season can trickle down to subsequent drafts and ultimately the NHL roster. Kind of a bummer Wednesday thought, if you ask me.
But let me underscore that, because it’s especially important right now: One draft sets the table for subsequent drafts. And that can often tell you a lot about internal evaluations from the brains in charge of the organization.
For example, between 2016 and 2019, the Blackhawks used six 1st or 2nd round picks on defensemen, and the only two remaining in the organization are Alex Vlasic (2nd round, 2019) and Ian Mitchell (2nd round, 2017). The Blackhawks had eight total picks in the first or second rounds of those four drafts; the only two forwards they selected that high in those four years were DeBrincat (2016) and Kirby Dach (2019).
The lack of forward depth in the organization is what led to the offensive struggles of the past few years at the NHL level. And ultimately, it led to the Blackhawks using all but two picks in the 2022 NHL Draft on forwards. (Certainly, I understand why — the organization needed to add quality and depth to the system up front and did that with the volume of picks general manager Kyle Davidson was able to acquire with his flurry of trades during last season and over the summer (Yes, I’ll acknowledge the Blackhawks used two of their three first-round picks in 2022 on defensemen. We’ll get to that.))
For now, we have only one Davidson draft class to consider, but it’s the start of a broader, era-defining arc.
Specifically, in a copycat league where everyone wants to have someone like Cale Makar to drive the game from the blue line, the Blackhawks identified Kevin Korchinski as that guy. They made him a priority in the draft and were able to get their guy thanks to the DeBrincat trade. And that’s why I wrote that Korchinski will be the headline on Davidson’s legacy; the two will be tied together forever.
But more than that, the first draft class of Davidson’s tenure was a needed course correction for the organization. He overwhelmingly went with forwards because there was skill available and he took it because the Blackhawks need it.
The next Blackhawks draft(s) will tell us even more about how Davidson evaluates talent, values his previous picks, and views his development timeline.
This is all a reminder, ultimately, that draft classes need to be viewed in context. Mistakes lead to reaches, and reaches lead to desperation. The Beaudin trade is another reminder that mistakes were made, reaches were made and the Blackhawks became desperate.
Davidson is still cleaning up the mess left behind by Bowman. The NHL roster he constructed for this year is looking good early, and may lead to additional assets to bolster the future later this year. For now, we’re watching how he turns the last few crappy years and bad drafts into fertilizer for the future he’s trying to grow in Chicago.