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Editor’s Choice: The Imperfect Science of Prospect Development



After a week’s worth of hearing from the Chicago Blackhawks front office, coaches, and the prospects themselves, it’s clear the Blackhawks went more with the whole-body, whole-mind approach of things. There will be more than enough time to be on the ice and they wanted a little change with prospect development.

Some other organizations have focused on the mental aspect as well, tying in the relationship and mental wellbeing aspect of the sport.

At the end of the day, organizations are trying to do everything they can to give its new prospects the support they need. But however a franchise determines to go with its development, there’s the unfortunate truth that not every prospect is going to hit, no matter all they do.

The intent here is certainly not to discourage. But recent trades, signings, and even some debates around prospects is a sobering reminder that expectations and reality are sometimes further than anyone predicted.

Hope vs Reality

There was a tweet of note that spurred some debate. Just two years ago, the Los Angeles Kings appeared to have the top prospect pool in all of hockey amongst many analysts. But the hope versus the reality is that it doesn’t always go as imagined.

That isn’t to dampen expectations or to pour cold water on what the Blackhawks are building. There’s plenty of reason to be excited for what is coming. But this was an interesting “hold on a second” moment. Beyond just the development side, there are other factors that play into it. Luck, believe it or not, is one of those factors. The lottery stands as one example. But the health of athletes is another part of it.

Though there is more information and attention to nutrition than ever, the human body can be fickle. Look at Jonathan Toews. In 2018-19, he was still nearly a point-per-game, potting 35 goals as well. But Toews went through Long Covid and also another auto-immune disorder that just broke him down. There’s absolutely no control over it.

Using the Kings as an example, Alex Turcotte was supposed to be the next big thing. He’s played just 12 games in the NHL with no points, and his career so far has been adversely effected by injury. Obviously, there’s still time.

The flip side? Connor McDavid suffered a brutal shoulder injury his rookie season where it looked much worse than it would end up. He missed 37 games, but to date, it was the worst injury of his career and one that wouldn’t take away from what has been a brilliant career.

But the other side of it, the mental part, is why so many teams like the Blackhawks have likely pivoted a bit in their thinking. Look no further that Filip Zadina. He did everything asked of him, and for one reason or another, it just didn’t work out in Detroit. Beyond that, how much does that mentally weigh on a player? Paid and drafted to score goals, some can overcome the frustrations more than others. It’s not an indictment on Zadina–it’s merely an observation. Tage Thompson went through some underwhelming seasons with St. Louis and was all but forgotten. Suddenly, he’s one of Buffalo’s best players.

A Prospect is Simply As the Word is Defined

So much has been written, on this site as well, about prospects and what they could be. It’s become such a thing in sports that teams are gun shy, fearful of giving one up and seeing them prosper elsewhere. Then there’s the other side, where not much thought is given and suddenly, a guy finds his way elsewhere.

A team can only do so much and what Blackhawks fans should be hopeful for is that the front office and development staff has been saying and doing all the right things. Instead of the traditional get on the ice and play, they went a different route, hoping that the rest for the body and the bonding as a team would pay off down the road.

No matter how some of it ends up, it’s not for a lack of trying. It’s just that sometimes the science of it all is understandably imperfect.