Three Blackhawks Crack the Top-25 in New NHL Prospect Rankings
With the current NHL season heading in the clearly stated direction of improving the future of the Blackhawks, even at the expense of the present, a lot of our focus here has been on the prospects.
General manager Kyle Davidson has emphasized drafting and developing the next generation(s) of players from his first day as interim general manager, and he’s been working hard to not only increase the number of quality players in the system, but also raise the overall quality of players, themselves. There’s a distinction there, such that it matters to you.
And thus far, he’s done an admirable job. Last week, The Athletic ranked the Blackhawks’ prospect pool fifth in the entire NHL — a significant improvement from where the organization has been for years. Many of the young players who have made an impact on the outside perception of Chicago’s talent pool were drafted this past summer by Davidson with picks he acquired in trades that involved players fans liked/loved.
On Monday morning, Scott Wheeler at The Athletic released his rankings of the top 50 drafted prospects in the NHL. His criteria for this list is pretty simple: players have to have been drafted, be under the age of 23 and not be an NHL regular yet.
The Blackhawks had three players appear on his list — all in the top 25 overall.
The first Blackhawks prospect to appear on the list is defenseman Kevin Korchinski, the seventh overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft (one of the picks acquired in the Alex DeBrincat trade). Korchinki, ranked No. 12 on Wheeler’s list, is one of the biggest risers on the list, jumping from 30th on the July list. Here’s some of what Wheeler had to say about Korchinski’s game:
Korchinski handles the puck smoothly on his hip, his impressive footwork and maneuverability help him adjust to, away, and around pressure (both of which have come a long way), and then he’s a natural playmaker who can make something happen and facilitate out of all of his movement and carries.
I like his stick and his ability to use his feet to defend the rush and disrupt play more and more (though he’s a better transition defender than a defensive-zone one). His hallmark has become his balance over his skates (an area that, astoundingly, was once a major concern before a growth spurt somehow straightened his posture out).
Another significant riser on the list is forward Lukas Reichel, who appears at No. 20 on Wheeler’s list. He was ranked 41st overall in July. The 17th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft has seen a little NHL action this year and scored his first NHL goal, but has intentionally been in Rockford most of this year despite his offensive abilities clearly being something the big club could use. That’s the development piece playing out, and Reichel’s performance in his second recall showed how he’s growing as a player.
Here’s some of what Wheeler had to say about Reichel:
He’s a multifaceted offensive player who is as effective playing off his linemates and using space as a tool to get open as a shooter as he is creating his own chances or using his ability to weave through pressure to draw attention and then facilitate. He also never looks bothered by pressure, solving problems easily and asserting himself on games with poise and confidence. There’s footwork, puck control, confidence and just an ease to his game that you don’t typically find in young players.
The third and final Blackhawks prospect who appears on the list is Frank Nazar at No. 25 (a one spot improvement from July). The Blackhawks selected Nazar 13th overall (with a pick they received in the Kirby Dach trade) and speed was one of his calling cards. So when his freshman season at the University of Michigan was in doubt because of a lower-body issue that required a surgical procedure, there were a few concerned fans out there.
Nazar joined the Wolverines this weekend and looked great (for his first game action in months). He scored his first collegiate goal on Saturday night and his speed was evident on every shift in the two wins against rival Michigan State.
I was impressed that Wheeler kept Nazar where he did given the injury limiting him to two games since the July rankings; Wheeler admits he struggled with where to slot him given the limited action he’s had this season. But here’s some of what he wrote about Nazar:
Few prospects dash around the ice and make plays like Nazar does. He’s a threatening player from the hashmarks because of his wrister, which he pops off of his stick with sneaky power and precision thanks in large part to the balance he displays through his weight shift (he’s not a super strong kid, though he is a tremendous athlete).
He plays pucks into space extremely well, regularly executing through tight gaps in coverage. And he’s just a hungry, driven player who consistently targets the middle lane with his greatest asset — his skating.
Nazar’s one of the fastest prospects in the sport, not only in straight lines and winding up through his crossovers, but also adjusting tempos (a learned skill that he really developed at U.S. NTDP). That allows him to impact play both with the puck attacking in transition to turn defenders or creating breakaways, as well as without it, speeding into lanes to get open for his linemates.