NHL Draft: Blackhawks Adding Depth or Frustration?

NHL Draft: Blackhawks Adding Depth or Frustration?

Over the last 12 months, the front office of the Chicago Blackhawks has shown a great deal of confidence in their selections from the 2011 NHL Draft. Six of the Hawks’ 11 picks in last year’s draft have already signed an entry-level contract, and two (Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw) saw postseason action.

But looking back at the last decade, the Blackhawks haven’t drafted well at all. Indeed, they have missed more times than not. So with the 2012 NHL Draft coming up in just a few weeks, what can we learn from the organization’s history?

Looking back at the Hawks’ first round picks since the year 2000, it’s easy to need a stiff drink. Between 2000-2009, the Blackhawks made 12 selections in the first round. Six of the 11 skaters they selected played in fewer than 80 regular season games for the organization.

How mediocre have the Hawks’ first round picks been since 2000? Cam Barker’s 80 points in a Chicago sweater ranks fourth among first rounders since the millennium. Only four of the 11 skaters selected in the first round between 2000-2009 have given the organization more than 100 career points (Tuomo Ruutu, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane).

Indeed, looking back at the last 12 years, the Hawks have had much better success in later rounds of the draft than earlier on. Certainly they hit home runs with Seabrook, Toews and Kane. And a number of second round picks (Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford, Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell) have made an impact on Chicago’s NHL roster.

But the Hawks have found a great deal of relative success after the third round.

Consider where these players were selected by Chicago:

  • James Wisniewski – 5th round (2002)
  • Adam Burish – 9th round (2002)
  • Dustin Byfuglien – 8th round (2003)
  • Jake Dowell – 5th round (2004)
  • Troy Brouwer – 7th round (2004)
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson – 4th round (2005)
  • Marcus Kruger – 5th round (2009)
  • Andrew Shaw – 5th round (2011)

As I wrote in the first chapter of my book, on aspect of the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team that made them the perfect group of players to finally represent this organization on the game’s ultimate prize was that team was put together of castaways from other organizations. Only nine of the 23 players whose names were engraved on the Stanley Cup in 2010 were drafted by the Blackhawks.

Because of that team, and the organization staying in the playoff picture, circumstances have changed in Chicago. With the NHL roster nearly filled with veterans for at least the next couple years, the Hawks are no longer drafting to fill top spots in their lineup as they did in 2006 and 2007 when they drafted Toews and Kane.

Because of those two picks working out as well as they did, the Hawks will pick in the bottom half of each round (again) this year. The front office will have to look for a player to slip through the cracks (as Saad did last year), and their scouts will have to be on top of their game to identify potential impact players that might be available in later rounds (as they did with Shaw).

The organization’s depth has improved dramatically in the last three years, but it’s now time for some of those players to matriculate to the NHL level to stay. This year’s draft will not only add players to the system, but hopefully add quality talent to the Rockford and, eventually, Chicago rosters that will help the Blackhawks compete for a championship.

At least on paper, the last couple years have been good for Stan Bowman’s regime. Keeping that in mind, there are some prospects that (if they’re still with the organization through this summer) will need to step up their game to stay with, much less ahead of, the incoming group of talented youngsters.

Specifically Joe Lavin (5th round – 2007), Kyle Beach (1st round – 2008) and Shawn Lalonde (3rd round – 2008), all of whom are in the final year of their respective entry-level contracts, will need to separate themselves as legitimate NHL talent quickly or could become trade bait as Brian Connelly was last year.

Each draft brings new optimism for the future of the organization. The Blackhawks aren’t in bad shape, but they need help. Trades will happen before, during and after the draft this year, and picks will be swapped by general managers, with every team trying to help their specific situation.

Will the Hawks’ help come from players drafted by the organization? Or will history repeat itself, with the Hawks using picks and prospects to add the right players to bring another championship to Chicago?

Two full years after the post-Cup fire sale, it’s time for some of the players and picks acquired from those deals to make an impact on the NHL roster. It’s also time for other talented youngsters to move up in, or out of, the organization.

It’s time for Bowman’s work to pay off.

For the Blackhawks (depressing) complete draft history since 1991, click here.

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