Wow! The Blackhawks Prospect Pool Ranked Top-5 in the NHL
Scott Wheeler at The Athletic has been publishing his updated mid-season organizational prospect rankings over the past few weeks. While this is the opinion of just one analyst, I’ve followed Wheeler’s work for some time and respect his educated assessments over the years.
In 2021’s year-end rankings, Wheeler had the Blackhawks at No. 23 in the NHL. A bottom-third of the league system is kind of why the Blackhawks are where they are right now (read: rebuilding). At that point, Kirby Dach was the headliner.
After a 2022 NHL Draft that Wheeler graded as a B+, a grade that was significantly influenced by the increased number of high-profile picks (three in the first round), he moved the Blackhawks all the way up to No. 13 overall.
I was impressed by how …impressed… Wheeler was with the Blackhawks’ overall improvement. Now, Lukas Reichel‘s work in the AHL had helped his stock and the additions of players like Kevin Korchinski, Frank Nazar and Sam Rinzel in the first round influenced a fairly dramatic climb. And I was more happy with the climb when you consider one of the players traded at the draft was Dach.
This week, Wheeler released his mid-season update to the league’s rankings. The Blackhawks are now a top-ten organization in the league. In fact, Wheeler has them at No. 5 overall!
The Blackhawks climbing this much is even more remarkable when you consider one of the players who should be viewed as a top-tier prospect, Nazar, hasn’t appeared in a game this season because of injury. Though that could hopefully change before the end of Michigan’s season.
Here are the 15 players Wheeler ranked as the top of the Blackhawks’ system:
- Kevin Korchinski
- Lukas Reichel
- Frank Nazar
- Ryan Greene
- Sam Rinzel
- Ethan Del Mastro
- Drew Commesso
- Arvid Söderblom
- Ilya Safonov
- Colton Dach
- Wyatt Kaiser
- Isaak Phillips
- Alex Vlasic
- Paul Ludwinski
- Victor Stjernborg
This list is very different from our Updated Top 25 list from earlier. Wheeler lists a number of other prospects he hated not having included in his top 15, saying defenseman Nolan Allan was the final cut.
Also considered were 2021 first-round pick Nolan Allan (the final cut and someone I pulled my hair over, because I do see some potential top-six value there), Rockford IceHogs defenseman Alec Regula (who has played NHL games and was the second-last cut), towering Providence sophomore defenseman Taige Harding (who I’m fascinated by), Flint Firebirds forward Gavin Hayes (who I like), University of Minnesota-Duluth sophomore Dominic James (who I like), Tri-City Americans forward Jalen Luypen (who I like), 20-year-old Denver Freshman Aidan Thompson, Notre Dame junior Landon Slaggert, Liiga standout Antti Saarela, Gatineau Olympiques worker Samuel Savoie, and St. Cloud State transfer-turned-breakout-goaltender Dominic Basse.
Blackhawks fans should be thrilled that the overall system has progressed this much in less than two seasons. Yes, it came at a cost; without a few significant trades at the draft last year, some of these prospects wouldn’t be part of the organization. But the development of players who were already drafted, like Commesso and especially Del Mastro, is incredibly encouraging.
I was fascinated to see some of the names that did make the top 15 and a few that didn’t make the cut. Gavin Hayes is having a marvelous post-draft season and Savoie was the talk of training camp and has 22 goals thus far this season. The good news is players like Hayes, Savoie, James, Thompson and Slaggert have had strong camps and played well for the US at August’s World Juniors and in college/junior this season and many project them as likely NHL contributors.
A cupboard that was projected as being nearly empty of NHL talent when Kyle Davidson assumed the general manager role has become impressively filled. That means a lot.