Blackhawks Brass Unified In Preaching Patience
This is the middle of crazy season for us as Blackhawks fans. With the knowledge that Connor Bedard is coming this fall, we’re spending lots of time and energy pouring over how the team can surround him with competitive players in the short term. And fans, analysts and media members both in and out of Chicago have taken the “hurry up!” approach to general manager Kyle Davidson’s rebuild now that the Blackhawks will make the first pick in this year’s draft.
When Davidson was making the rounds with local and national/international media, he remained consistent in his conservative approach to his rebuild. As a reminder: Davidson has never put a timeframe on when the Blackhawks will return to being highly competitive. Obviously adding Bedard helps accelerate our dreams, but the rest of the lineup needs to come along for the ride. And that’s going to take time — time that, as Davidson has consistently said, will be defined by the development curve of the individual prospects.
Over the past few days, Blackhawks director of amateur scouting Mike Doneghey has been chatting with a lot of media folks around Chicago about Chicago’s direction. Not surprisingly, his approach has been in step with Davidson when discussing the growth curve for the franchise — especially with the forward group they have been growing quickly since the start of the 2022 NHL Draft.
In Doneghey’s conversation with Scott Powers at The Athletic, he was asked about last year’s draft class and how he feels about their growth one year removed from the selections.
When the Blackhawks introduced Luke Richardson last summer, one of the anecdotes he shared from his interview process was that he went out for food and beverages with the front office to watch a game during the Stanley Cup Final between the Lightning and Avalanche. That came to mind when I read Doneghey mention one of the executives he thinks really “gets it” regarding drafting and developing is Steve Yzerman, who spent years in Tampa before going “home” to Detroit; most of the core players on the Lightning roster that went to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals were drafted by Yzerman.
Doneghey specifically said that, with a few rare exceptions, it really takes 4-5 years for players to be “ready’ for the NHL. To see what they’ve got and what their game really is at a mature level. He brought up Alex Vlasic spending three years at Boston University before signing with the Blackhawks and another year in Rockford this past season. He’s now at the fifth year of his post-draft career and we’re starting to see who Vlasic is as a defenseman.
Circling back to last year’s draft, Doneghey mentioned two prospects who didn’t have the numbers some fans might have wanted in their post-draft season because of injuries: Frank Nazar and Paul Ludwinski. They’re very different players and will likely slot into very different roles once they reach the NHL, but his point was that we still need to employ patience with young players.
This isn’t the NFL or the NBA where you get Day 1 starters. You’re dealing with 17-year-old kids, so there’s a process here. We want everybody to be on the scene right away, and I just don’t think it’s fair to the kids because just some kids come along sooner than later. That’s why some kids in the drafts fall to the second rounds, third rounds, wherever it may be. Sometimes it just takes kids a little longer to get going.
As I have said before and Doneghey has echoed in a number of interviews recently, the Blackhawks’ blue line is well ahead of the forward group in its development. He specifically mentioned Vlasic and Wyatt Kaiser “are already there.” And then went on to talk about the quality of depth they have coming with Kevin Korchinski, Ethan Del Mastro, Nolan Allan, Sam Rinzel and Isaak Phillips. In the case of Rinzel, we once again need to be patient; he’s headed to the University of Minnesota next year and still has some development work to do. But the others he named could all be in the NHL before too long.
This year’s draft presents the opportunity to amplify what appears to be a very good first draft class for Davidson’s front office. Even with the 19th overall pick — if the Blackhawks stay there — both Davidson and Doneghey have said there’s a chance to get another difference maker in the middle-third of the first round. Add the four picks the Blackhawks currently own in the second round and there’s a good chance to see that forward depth accelerate tremendously.
[The] short answer is we’re looking at forwards,” Doneghey told Powers. “We need to build up that forward group. We know we’re gonna get a forward with the first pick. We know Lukas Reichel is there. We know we took Frank Nazar last year. And then the guys that had really good plus-one draft years off this past draft, like Ryan Green was over point a game, (Aidan) Thompson was over a point per game, Gavin Hayes had 40-something goals, (Samuel) Savoie the year that he had at Gatineau. So we’ve gotten a lot of forward pieces. Now we’d just like to keep adding to that to bring the level up.”
The reinforcements are coming. The hard part now is practicing the patience the team is preaching with the anticipation of Bedard’s arrival in October.