Three weeks from today, the Blackhawks will get busy at the 2023 NHL Draft. After (at least) two picks in the first round, Kyle Davidson will wake up with (for now) six picks in the first couple rounds of Day Two of the draft. He’ll have lots of options, and cap space, to play with in Nashville.
As we inch closer to the draft, we’re going to be inundated with mock drafts. The easy part is putting Connor Bedard’s name at the 1-1 line, but after that it gets interesting. And everyone has unique opinions.
Two of the voices I respect most when it comes to projecting and analyzing prospects are Corey Pronman and Scott Wheeler at The Athletic. They pour countless hours into their prospect evaluations, so when they start talking mock drafts I pay attention.
A couple weeks ago, they worked together to produce a two-round mock draft. I love that because the Blackhawks make six picks (again, for now) in the first two rounds. On Thursday morning, they updated their two-round mock draft with some names moving up and down the board, and some new names highlighted as possible selections for the Blackhawks. Max Bultman joined Pronman and Wheeler for this endeavor, which impacted some of the picks.
Here’s how their previous mock draft played out. Let’s jump into their updated version.
1 — 1: Connor Bedard, C
Pronman’s comment: “It’s easy to be tempted to make a joke about this being a no-brainer decision, but there was a point in the first half where I and several scouts I was talking to thought it would be a tough decision between Bedard and Adam Fantilli. Fantilli is bigger, more physical, is more likely to stick at center in the NHL, and has exceptional offensive abilities. He’s a rare prospect, and looks like a true building block for a contender.“
1 — 19: Matthew Wood, RW, UConn
NHL Central Scouting Rank: No. 4 North American skater
Pronman comment: “I debated Yager here but I’m not sure Chicago can have three 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11 centers between him Bedard and Frank Nazar. Wood is my best talent on board, anyways, and could form a connection with Bedard on a power play one day.“
My comment: I love the size piece here, and Wood’s a prospect who some have as high as the top ten overall and others have sliding this far. Combining him in a lineup some day with Colton Dach would give the Blackhawks a really nice combination of size and skill up front. And I appreciate and agree with Pronman’s comment about the size piece being something to consider if there are multiple players — like Brayden Yager — who could be great fits available. Like Adam Fantilli, Wood already has one full NCAA season on his resume, which I like.
2 — 35: Anton Wahlberg, C, Malmö
NHL Central Scouting Rank: No. 30 European skater
Bultman comment: “GM Pronman mentioned Chicago’s center pipeline being on the smaller side earlier, and Wahlberg addresses that immediately as a 6-foot-3 pivot who already earned SHL action this season and had a productive U18s.“
My comment: Everything I said about Wood is true about Wahlberg. He’s played against men in the SHL before his draft season and brings good size and ability. I’ve seen him mocked in the late-first round (frequently to St. Louis at 29), so there is value there for a prospect rising on many draft boards beyond his final Central Scouting ranking. The Blackhawks only drafted one European skater last year, so that is something to keep in mind here. A couple names that came off the board after Wahlberg in their mock that intrigue me are Riley Heidt, Ethan Gauthier and Oscar Fisker Molgaard.
2 — 44: Theo Lindstein, LHD, Brynäs
NHL Central Scouting Rank: No. 14 European skater
Bultman comment: “The Blackhawks have likewise loaded up on forwards in this draft, and are glad to take Lindstein, who played much of the season in Sweden’s top league and was counted on for huge minutes at U18 worlds.“
My comment: I’m not sure I sign up for this pick, but not because of the player. There’s a lot to like about Lindstein and, if he’s there at 44, there might be teams interested in moving up to get him there. But the Blackhawks are loaded up on the left side of the blue line and Lindstein’s size isn’t quite what the Hawks have coming. I do think the Blackhawks will add to their blue line stable in this draft, but might look for the right time to add a right-handed player. The guys have RHD Hunter Brzustewicz going to Buffalo with the pick immediately following Lindstein; he would be an option. They also passed on forwards Carson Rehkopf and Kasper Halttunen here.
2 — 51: Nick Lardis, LW, Hamilton
NHL Central Scouting Rank: No. 27 North American skater
Wheeler’s comment: “The Blackhawks prioritized skating with their forwards at the draft last year when they took guys like Frank Nazar and Paul Ludwinski. I like the idea of doubling down here on Lardis, a breakout star of the second half who can fly. This next generation in Chicago is going to be fast.“
My comment: Lardis scored 25 goals and added 21 assists in 33 games in the OHL last season. As we’ve talked about a lot here already this summer, the Blackhawks have prioritized being a fast team. And Wheeler notes that in his comment. I’m on board with this selection. They had Nico Myatovic, a bigger wing who played in Seattle with Kevin Korchinski, Nolan Allan and Colton Dach down the stretch this season, going with the next pick. I would also consider him here.
2 — 55: Luca Cagnoni, LHD, Portland
NHL Central Scouting Rank: No. 35 North American skater
Pronman comment: “Chicago has a lot of big, mobile blueliners in their system, and in Cagnoni they add some dynamic speed and skill on the back end albeit he is undersized.“
My comment: As I mentioned earlier with the Lindstein pick, I’m not sure the Blackhawks prioritize the left side of the blue line even though both of the defense prospects they have Chicago selecting in this mock are good ones. The guy I would target here is center Carey Terrance, who Pronman mocks to New Jersey at No. 58. He’s a center with decent size (6-0, 175) who can skate incredibly well. The Athletic has goaltenders Carson Bjarnason and Trey Augustine going with the two picks immediately following this selection and they also might be options here (though, again, I prefer forwards still at this point).