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Blackhawks Rebuild Report: How Have #1 Picks Fared? (’19 – ’22)

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The Chicago Blackhawks have basked in the glory of winning the top overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. It’s expected they take Connor Bedard with that pick and become the envy of every other team in the league. It should certainly speed up the rebuild.

Beyond that, though, how guaranteed is it that they become a generational impact?

Chicago Hockey Now has gone through every single first overall pick dating back to the start of the Cap Era through 2014. Today we look at the 2019-22 selections. With the picks being within just four years of the current draft, it’s not going to be feasible to project whether the pick has truly panned out yet.

The wording changes a bit and is adjusted for the shorter time frame that has passed.

2019: Jack Hughes – New Jersey Devils
(244 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (87-120-207)

Rebuild Status in 2019

The Devils were still figuring it out, two years removed from taking Nico Hischier. Again, they found themselves in the #1 spot, leapfrogging from third to first after doing all they could to “Lose for Hughes.”

Championship Window Projection with Hughes in the Fold

It’s tougher to project with the picks being more recent but Hughes’ current season puts him as the guy that will be one of the biggest drivers in New Jersey’s success. Hughes being injured in the second round hurt the Devils’ offense and ultimately played a role in their five-game loss to Carolina. 43 goals and 99 points in the regular season and 11 points and five goals in 12 playoff games. Hughes showed what he can do this season.

Projection vs Reality

Hughes was projected as not only a top pick, but set records in the US program along with starting in the NHL the season immediately after he was drafted. The projection was that he would be a top-tier talent. The reality is that after the season he had, the projections seem to be spot on. Hughes should only get better and will likely keep New Jersey rising.

2020: Alexis Lafrenière – New York Rangers
(481 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (299-243-542)

Rebuild Status in 2020

The Draft Lottery being completely altered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the New York Rangers not only got to play in the qualifying round of the playoffs, they ended up being in the final draw. Per the rules, the “qualifying team” ended up skyrocketing to the top spot, meaning those teams first competed in a play-in game. If they lost, they were one of eight teams pulled for the top draft choice. The Rangers lost the game, but won the lottery.

Fans were furious, especially in Detroit where the Red Wings were historically bad. Adding insult to injury, Detroit would slide down to the fourth spot.

The NHL would alter the rules later. But the Rangers were already escaping rebuild status. This would tee them up to be dominant for a decade. Or so everyone thought.

Championship Window Projection with Lafrenière in the Fold

Lafrenière has not been as advertised. Widely expected to be a generational talent, his numbers have been pedestrian and he’s already been the source of trade rumors. It can be argued that the pandemic stunted his development, but already through his entry-level deal, he has yet to hit 20 goals in a season, and may have been a factor as to why Gerard Gallant is unemployed.

The championship window is wide open in New York, but the results have been tepid.

Projection vs Reality

Lafrenière was projected to be generational and the reality has been anything but that. Now, it’s still very early and a new coach with a new system and approach may be able to unlock something. Hughes broke out in year four–perhaps a similar script could follow. It’s too early to really tell, but so far, it’s been an underwhelming pick for New York.

2021: Owen Power – Buffalo Sabres
(87 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (6-32-38)

Rebuild Status in 2021

Buffalo has been on this list often–and for good reason. They would be picking #1 for the second time in four seasons and still trying to find their way out of the rebuild labyrinth.

Championship Window Projection with Power in the Fold

This one is still early. Power played in his first full season in 2022-23 and has found a spot as a top four pairing. Buffalo missed the playoffs so it’s still TBD when it comes to projecting where they’re at. They look close to being a playoff team next season, but it’s still another TBD.

Projection vs Reality

Power was projected to be a big-time defenseman and his first season in the league looks promising in fulfilling that projection.

2022: Juraj Slafkovsky – Montreal Canadiens
(39 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (4-6-10)

Rebuild Status in 2022

A year removed from playing in the Stanley Cup Final, the Canadiens unraveled and found themselves picking first in the draft. In a strange spot with a new general manager and staff, the Canadiens surprisingly took Slafkovsky with the first overall pick.

Championship Window Projection with Slafkovsky in the Fold

Montreal will be picking fifth in this draft, showing that the rebuild is still very much going on. If things fall right, perhaps Montreal opens a window in the next couple seasons. But they certainly look to have some more years to go.

Projection vs Reality

Slafkovsky’s projection was a rising player who was in a crowded draft that has great, but not generational players. His first season in the NHL was cut short by injury, but his numbers were underwhelming. Beyond that, he caught the ire of many with what appeared to be a ho-hum attitude after a game misconduct penalty. Slafkovsky blasted Detroit’s Matt Luff into the boards, sending Luff out for months.

It wasn’t the best of starts for the rookie. There’s still plenty of time to right the ship but it’s been a wobbly start to his NHL career.

Previous Pieces: 2005 – 2007 (Crosby, Johnson, Kane) | 2008 – 2010 (Stamkos, Tavares, Hall) | 2011-2014 (Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, MacKinnon, Ekblad) | 2015-2018 (McDavid, Matthews, Hischier, Dahlin)

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