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Blackhawks NHL Draft Notebook: What just happened?

Mario Tirabassi Avatar
July 10, 2022

If you’re like me, you’ve needed some time to digest what happened this past week for the Chicago Blackhawks at the NHL Draft. It was the first draft experience for new general manager Kyle Davidson and his retooled scouting department. The two-day event served as one of the first major steps in the rebuilding process for the organization and it sure made a big leap in more than one way. You can find how we on the CHGO Blackhawks crew graded Davidson’s first go-around as GM during the draft went here. But as a recap and to put the draft craziness behind us as we move into prospect camp and free agency this week, here were the major events and takeaways from the week.

Alex DeBrincat traded to Ottawa

The weeks leading up to the draft were dominated by the rumors swirling that the Blackhawks would be open to moving 24-year-old superstar Alex DeBrincat. At first it seemed silly to think that DeBrincat would not be part of the plans for the rebuild, but as time went on and Kyle Davidson spoke on the matter a number of times, it became clear that anyone who did not have movement protection (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Seth Jones) was up for grabs.

What set Davidson up in this scenario were his own words. On more than one occasion, the rookie GM stated that while the team was very interested in getting into the first round of this year’s draft, he would not force any trades. But around 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, after an eyeball emoji tweet from the Blackhawks Twitter account, the trade was announced that DeBrincat was headed to the Ottawa Senators for the seventh-overall pick, the 39th pick, and a 2024 third-round pick. Given the underwhelming return, the trade felt forced.

Whether the picks acquired and made by Chicago ever pan out will take time to develop. But as it stands, this is a net loss when it comes to asset value for DeBrincat, a two-time 40-goal scorer and NHL All-Star.

Trading DeBrincat didn’t need to happen for the Blackhawks to be bad next season, but he likely would have made them not bad enough to fall into the bottom-three of the league and have a shot at the top-overall pick in next year’s draft with Connor Bedard as the consensus top prospect … a prospect that many consider a franchise-altering player who would have been the top prospect in this year’s draft class and many others before him outside of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews in recent years. With this trade, Chicago is much closer to being in the Bedard sweepstakes.

Kirby Dach traded to Montreal

After trading DeBrincat, Davidson wasn’t done on night one of the draft. Before Chicago could make the seventh-overall pick in the draft after acquiring it from Ottawa, another young forward was sent to a Canadian team. Former third-overall pick Kirby Dach was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the 13th and 66th picks in this year’s draft.

While the return was better than what Davidson got for DeBrincat based on asset value, this was another headscratcher since Dach felt like he too would have been part of the rebuilding plans for the Blackhawks. After just three seasons, all of which were either affected by injuries to Dach or by the pandemic in some way, the 21-year-old was cut loose from Chicago after not turning into the immediate-impact, future top-line centerman many hoped he would become.

In the same thought process as trading DeBrincat, moving Dach makes the Blackhawks worse immediately. The moves improves their chances at landing a top-three selection in next year’s draft and having a shot at one of three players whom draft analysts and scouts nearly agree unanimously that are all franchise changers in Bedard, Matvei Michkov, and Adam Fantilli. But also the same as the DeBrincat trade, if it turfs out and the Blackhawks do not end up getting better in the long run and Dach becomes a stud with Montreal, then the deal will be a stain on the tenure of Davidson that he will have to wear.

Blackhawks acquire Petr Mrazek

In the midst of all the DeBrincat and Dach trade rumors, Kyle Davidson quietly said that the goaltending situation in Chicago would become clearer “over the next 24-48 hours” leading up to the draft. Not many people knew exactly what that meant leading into Round One of the draft, but by the 25th pick, the Blackhawks had acquired their de facto starting goaltender for potentially the next two seasons.

For what seemed nearly as long, or even longer, that we were talking about the Alex DeBrincat trade rumors, we were also talking about the real possibility of the Blackhawks trading for Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Petr Mrazek in a move that would help the Leafs shed a bad contract and allow the Blackhawks to get back a deal-sweetener in the process. Lo and behold, the 38th pick went from Chicago to Toronto in exchange for the 25th pick and Mrazek.

Heading into this season, the Blackhawks had zero NHL-caliber goalies on their books. Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen are potentially set to hit free agency and Chicago is too far away from relying on prospects Arvid Söderblom or Drew Commesso being ready for the NHL yet. With Mrazek, at least the Blackhawks have someone who is a proven starter in the league and isn’t going to play at a Marc-André Fleury-level where he is stealing games that the team has no business winning.

Last season was not his best, by far, posting a .888 save-percentage and a 3.34 GAA in 20 appearances with the Maple Leafs. Not what Toronto was expecting after Mrazek posted a .923 save-percentage and 2.06 GAA in 12 appearances with the Hurricanes during the shortened 2021 season. For his career, he has a .909 save-percentage, 2.64 GAA, and 24 shutouts in 295 appearances for Detroit, Philadelphia, Carolina, and Toronto.

Again, this is all in the name of landing a potential franchise-altering player at the top of the 2023 draft. If Mrazek doesn’t have a bounceback year next season, the losses are not in vain. If he does return to a higher-quality of play, then maybe the Blackhawks trade him at the deadline and acquire more future assets as they wait on the development of Commesso and Söderblom.

Three first-round draft picks

As we prepared for the CHGO Blackhawks draft day coverage, we didn’t know exactly how the show or the draft would pan out. Without a first-round pick, the Blackhawks were looking to be a non-factor and for us, a show all about the Blackhawks, that was going to be a challenge. For better or worse though, the team gave us plenty to cover on night one of the draft and made for an incredible show. For the first time in team history, the Blackhawks had three first-round draft picks in a single draft. They started the night with the seventh-overall pick, acquired in the DeBrincat trade and picked defenseman Kevin Korchinski from the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds.

Korchinski is a sizable, mobile, offensive-minded defenseman who was a catalyst for the Thunderbirds this past season and one of the biggest reasons they made it to the WHL Finals. Even with the depth of the prospect system at defense, Korchinski steps into Chicago’s farm system as one of the top prospects across the board and could potentially be the best defensive prospect they have that has not played a professional game yet.

While getting a top-tier defensive prospect is all well and good, the Blackhawks’ biggest need in this draft was at forward. Luckily, after trading Dach and getting the 13th pick, the Blackhawks addressed that need by selecting Frank Nazar III from the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Davidson said he is targeting players who will make the Blackhawks faster. Nazar is perfect for that. Recognized by many scouts and draft analysts as one of, if not the fastest skater in his draft class, Nazar brings speed, competitiveness, and a ton of skill to the table. He is headed to the University of Michigan this season and will likely be in the mix for Team USA at the next Men’s World Junior Championships.

After making the deal with the Maple Leafs, the Blackhawks had the chance to make their third selection of night one with the 25th pick. While an unpopular move in the moment, the Blackhawks selected a second defenseman in the first round by taking Minnesota high school standout Sam Rinzel. He would be the last defenseman taken in the draft class, though, as Chicago used every pick on day two of the draft to select forwards.

Rinzel is made in the same mold as Korchinski: sizable, mobile, and offensively gifted. But unlike Korchinski, who is a bit more polished at this point in time, Rinzel will be more of a long-term development project. He is headed to the University of Minnesota, but not until the 2023-24 season. Before that, he’ll continue to play with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL, where he played a handful of games to end last season after playing at Chaska High School in Minnesota.

In total, Chicago made 11 picks in the 2022 draft class. That is the most they have had in a single class since the 2011 draft. There will need to be a ton of patience with this draft class, and with the 2021 draft class as well. Chicago is approaching development of prospects differently under the new front office and with the rebuild plans looking very long-term, there is no point in rushing any one of these top picks to the NHL until they are ready.

Patrick Kane’s non-comment

Speaking of the long-term plans for the rebuild, the moves made by Davidson will likely not be received well by the two of the biggest names left on the roster in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Both players are the final pillars of the ‘One Goal’ era of Blackhawks hockey and are the two highest-paid players on the team. They both are on the final year of their contracts heading into the 2022-23 season and both are represented by agent Pat Brisson, as is Seth Jones. Brisson spoke to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun following the trades of DeBrincat and Dach and if Kane had any comments on them. He did not, for now.

With DeBrincat traded and the all but official release of Dylan Strome to free agency, Kane is losing his best two linemates left on the roster and two players that had the best years of their career this past season while playing with the future Hall of Fame winger. A story all too familiar for Kane in his Blackhawks career as another player(s) he clearly loved playing with are gone from the team.

Kane, Toews, and Jones are all locked into the team contractually with no-trade clauses on their deals. Davidson has said that he will not ask the players to waive those clauses so they could be moved. Only if they come to him with the request, then a deal could be worked out. But with the clear rebuilding plan saying DeBrincat, Dach, and Strome are not needed, it makes you wonder how long any of those three veterans are willing to stick around and endure the losses and growing pains.

Duncan Keith Retires

Buried in the hullabaloo of draft week was the news that former Blackhawks defenseman and future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith decided to retire following his one and only season not playing in Chicago. After being traded to the Edmonton Oilers last offseason, Keith was a shell of himself on the ice and rather than play-out the final year of his deal with the Oilers or be moved to another team, he is hanging up the skates just before his 39th birthday on July 16.

While he is ending his career now, it will live on for the Blackhawks for the next two seasons because of salary cap recapture penalties. Chicago is on the hook for $5.54M this season and another $1.9M next season in dead money from Keith’s deal. It sucks, but it won’t hurt the Blackhawks all that much, since they don’t figure to be a team spending to the cap ceiling any time soon.

Aside from the re-capture penalty, Keith’s career and legacy will always be tied to the Blackhawks, no matter how it ended in Edmonton. A two-time Norris trophy winner, 2015 Conn Smythe winner, three-time Stanley Cup Champion, and the second-most games played in a Blackhawks sweater in team history (1,192), Keith will be a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. His No. 2 will be retired at the United Center as well and it can’t happen soon enough.

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