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One of the bright spots for the Chicago Blackhawks as they make their way down the rebuilding path is the depth of young defensemen in the organization. Once anchored by the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, the Chicago blue-line is not even a shell of what it used to be. Having Seth Jones is nice, so as long as he doesn’t fall off a cliff in his skillset too soon, but he is not what should be getting Blackhawks fans excited for the future of the team.
The depth of the organization at the defensive position is highlighted by a number of young players that made big impacts with the Rockford IceHogs this season, and some of them made their way to the NHL this year to show off what the building blocks to the rebuild will look like in the defensive rotation. Players like Ian Mitchell, Alec Regula, Alex Vlasic, Isaak Phillips, and Jakub Galvas all give hope to the fanbase that there is a new wave of young talent about to crash into Chicago. Beyond that, going even younger, players like Nolan Allan, Wyatt Kaiser, and Ethan Del Mastro have shown early signs in their young careers to be at least a little excited for what they could become for the Blackhawks.
The caveat to all of this is that not all of these players will reach the NHL with the Blackhawks. And before Chicago holds on to a player too long and loses them in the developmental shuffle, the team should seriously look at a number of these up and comers as potential pieces to add to the rebuilding plan in different ways.
Chicago doesn’t have a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft coming up in July. There could be a potential deal to be made to use one of these young defensemen to get into the first round if GM Kyle Davidson and the organization believe they can land a player that can be even more of a difference maker. There is also an organizational deficiency in both the forwards and goaltender groups. An abundance of talented defensemen could lend itself to moving a young, high-end blue-liner for a young, high-end centerman or a young, high-end goaltender.
One player that may be falling down the depth chart and becoming lost in the shuffle of defenders is former 2018 first-round pick Nicolas Beaudin. There was a sense coming into this season that Beaudin would start to push for NHL icetime at this point in his career. He had already made an impact in his first real taste of the NHL last season with two goals and six points in 19 games and looked on the cusp of being in the conversation for one of the building blocks of the future.
But Beaudin was passed over throughout this season for NHL call-ups defensively from the Rockford IceHogs in favor of Galvas, Phillips, Vlasic, and Regula. Beaudin’s two-game stint with the Blackhawks this season was tied for the shortest of any Rockford call-up along with Kurtis Gabriel. After a two-goal and 16-point season with the IceHogs, Beaudin was healthy-scratched for four of Rockford’s five Calder Cup playoff games with veteran Ryan Stanton, yes THAT Ryan Stanton, taking his lineup spot. While selling low on the former 27th-overall selection may not be in Chicago’s best interest, he already looks like the first “odd man out” in this scenario.
Coming into the 2022-23 season, with the addition of Filip Roos on Monday morning, the Blackhawks already have 14 defensemen under contract. Ten of those 14 players will start next season at age 23 or younger. With the NHL Draft coming up in July and Kyle Davidson’s presumed desire to get back into the first round, don’t be surprised if the overflow of young talent is weaponized to bring in a first-round pick. For a team that is looking to try to stockpile young talent across the board, it’s worth exploring and pulling the trigger on moves that can balance the organizational depth as the Blackhawks look to rebuild from the ground up.
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