NHL Network ranked the Chicago Blackhawks prospect pool fourth in the league, much of it buoyed by Connor Bedard who will graduate upon arrival in the preseason. But the others–well, could there be some disagreement or are the rankings right on?
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) July 31, 2023
At First Glance….
A quick glance sees eight of the 10 picks made by Kyle Davidson–which four of those eight are from this season’s draft. An interesting player left off is Lukas Reichel, who they believe is now out of that category. Another quick note – half were taken in he first round. Only Wyatt Kaiser is outside the first two rounds.
Back to Reichel–he would be second after Bedard if on the list–at least according to me.
There’s a lot of pressure on those first rounders to truly “round” out. The top six are all Davidson picks, and that’s a massive win because he’s done what he’s supposed to have accomplished. He walked into the 2022 Draft without any first round picks, and then walked away with three choices in Kevin Korchinski (#2), Frank Nazar (#4), and Sam Rinzel (#8).
But there’s a few questions after the first read.
Rankings Are in the Eye of the Beholder
Bedard and Korchinski are right on. I believe both will be in Chicago for the season, and will give the Blackhawks a chance to really solidify the foundation for the next period of contention. The Oliver Moore-Frank Nazar rankings could be interchangeable, where after Nazar’s five point (4-1) performance against Sweden there’s some cognitive dissonance there. I would put Nazar a slight nod above Moore, only in that he’s got two months of experience at the NCAA level already, and I believe a full, healthy version of Nazar is third over Moore at this point. I loved the pick when they made it in 2022, and believe that Nazar could be a major game changer for Chicago down the road.
This isn’t to besmirch Moore–his potential and skill is tremendous in its own right.
Nick Lardis at five seems a bit high–but if his goal scoring continues at the rate it has, he’ll be an absolute heist by Davidson snagging him in the third round. Drew Commesso should be here, and perhaps it’s just the fact that he’s a bit closer to the show than the others. His workout regimen and also his non-stop motor for improvement makes him a prime candidate to succeed in Rockford, getting him to Chicago faster. Solid at Boston University, he’ll experience some growing pains with the IceHogs, but he’s very likely going to be backstopping the Blackhawks within the next couple of years.
Adam Gajan is a solid pick, but a bit too new to put at #10, especially as a goaltender with a smaller sample size to judge by. He stole attention based on his performance at the World Juniors, which is fair. But a player like Gavin Hayes seems more of a better bet to round out the top-ten or be an honorable mention in the 11 or 12 spot.
What about Sam Rinzel? He could rank higher down the road, but he’s likely topping out at five on this list for now. He’ll be the first to say he can be better, especially in his own zone, but the offensive upside is incredible, especially when thinking how he could potentially quarterback a future power play in Chicago.
What about some other names? Alex Vlasic, Colton Dach, and even Arvid Soderblom are some that deserve consideration. In Soderblom’s case, he’s in that prospect purgatory status that Reichel is in. Dach got stronger with every game he played in the WHL and Memorial Cup playoffs, and could very well be a top-ten prospect in the system. Vlasic is a towering defenseman at 6’6 who should finally get a real chance to step into full time play this season.
Bottom Line: Blackhawks Prospect Pool is in Great Shape
Regardless of where some want to rank them, the bottom line is that the Blackhawks are in great shape. Development takes center stage with a pipeline oozing with talent. Chicago still has a pair of first-round picks in each of the next two drafts and they are prime to see another shot at the lottery in 2024.
The difficult part of ranking prospects within a system is ranking them based on what the evaluator thinks or is looking for versus how the organization values them. One evaluator may be higher on Korchinski because he’s a top ranked defenseman in the system, has the high IQ, and tore it up at the WHL level. Another may consider Reichel a prospect still (as I do) and place him above Korchinski because of his readiness and good showing at the NHL level in limited time.
Again, it’s subjective. But some, like Bedard, stand head and shoulders above the rest. He will graduate from the prospect pool quickly.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if after expected successes in college, Rinzel, Nazar, and Moore are all signed to entry-level deals. Along with Bedard, Korchinski, and Kaiser, that would be six of the top ten graduated in just a season if they all stick with the big club.
That’s how quickly it can go. But the best part for Chicago? There’s more than enough prospects to fill the void and keep one of the NHL’s best prospect pools near the top of the chart when it comes to rankings.