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Development Now Takes Center Stage For the Blackhawks



The signing of Artyom Levshunov marked the fourth of eight first-round picks inked to an entry-level deal. Of those four, two (Kevin Korchinski and Connor Bedard) have spent their first season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Frank Nazar appeared in three games, scoring a goal in his professional debut. It’s a heck of a return on investment, especially since Bedard and Korchinski jumped from juniors to the pros. Nazar spent the season with Michigan before getting a cup of coffee in Chicago.

So with Levshunov likely headed to Rockford, it accounts for half of the Blackhawks top picks at the professional ranks. The other four–Sam Rinzel, Oliver Moore, Sacha Boisvert, and Marek Vanacker are playing in college and Canadian Juniors to ready for their respective entry-level deal.

Along with those four first-round picks, there’s a pack of prospects on the way and some debuting in Rockford this season. Add to the group already there, and development takes center stage as more draft picks skate their way to Chicago.

Mark Eaton on Blackhawks Prospects: ‘It’s Creating More Competition’

Blackhawks General Manager Kyle Davidson filled the lineup with veteran depth to avoid a repeat of last season’s nightmare. Coupled with injuries and a skill level that just couldn’t compete at times, Davidson maintained that the younger players could get their shot when it’s absolutely their time. If they’re ready, they earn it. If not, they’ll develop in Rockford until they’re ready to step in.

For Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Development Mark Eaton, it’s about the cream rising to the top.

“I think it’s about competition,” Eaton told the media at development camp.  “You see that’s what have tried to create. As our prospect pool gets deeper, it’s creating more competition and our scouts do a tremendous job vetting these guys. That’s the foundation of the Blackhawks is a high compete level.”

The new setup allows for players like Landon Slaggert and even Nazar to spend time in Rockford to refine their game. Why see their minutes reduced or limited in Chicago when ample time will be there with the IceHogs? The critical piece, however, was how Davidson spoke of the staff in Rockford responsible for the development of that talent. Seeing the spike in ability after Lukas Reichel and Wyatt Kaiser returned after being sent down, the prospects can play at their appropriate level before having a prolonged chance in Chicago.

“We want them to hit what we believe they can be and what we believe they will be with responsible development,” Davidson said.  “But we’re not going to put players in the NHL just to say we have young players in the NHL. It’s got to be the right thing to do.”

Both Davidson and Eaton believe in an organic battle when it comes to camp–allowing the younger players to earn their spot if indeed it’s their’s. But much of the intrigue during last year’s preseason that centered around whether Korchinski, Kaiser, or even Colton Dach would make the roster won’t have that same feel this year.

One glance over who was signed and who’s on the roster sees that maybe Bedard and Korchinski are the true locks. Kaiser can likely crack the defensive corps, too. But even Nazar and Slaggert, who both spent time in Chicago last season–will find things far more crowded this time around.

So if they head back to Rockford, the development piece allows for both the Blackhawks and their prospects to relax and just focus on the growth piece. In the end, it’ll serve both them and the Blackhawks in the present and the long term.

It also, whether anyone wants to think about it or not, begins to sort out who really will be part of the long term plan.

“To be able to create depth and then if there are injuries and there’s a player that’s going to come up and be able to come up into a spot, into a team that’s a little more  positive and maybe get a few more wins than we did last year, I think that will only serve them well,” Davidson said.  “It’ll be a great environment for the young players that are here, but there’s also a great environment in Rockford that they can own next year, too.”

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