Kyle Davidson had all eyes on him around the league as the NHL Draft approached. The first-time GM was dangling every member of the Blackhawks roster that didn’t have movement protection in front of the other 31 teams. The biggest move Davidson made was trading Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators, but later followed that up by trading Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens and then acquiring Petr Mrazek and a first-round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Heading into the Draft, Chicago had no picks in the first-round. When the dust settled, Chicago made three selections in the first-round and 11 picks in total. It marked the first time in team history they had three first-round picks in one draft and the most selections since the 2011 NHL Draft.
Here is Davidson’s first NHL Draft Class:
No. 7 – Kevin Korchinski (D)
No. 13 – Frank Nazar III (C/W)
No. 25 – Sam Rinzel (D)
No. 38 – Paul Ludwinski (C)
No. 57 – Ryan Greene (C/W)
No. 66 – Gavin Hayes (RW/LW)
No. 81 – Samuel Savoie (C/W)
No. 90 – Aidan Thompson (C)
No. 173 – Dominic James (C/W)
No. 188 – Nils Juntorp (RW)
No. 199 – Riku Tohila (C)
So how did he do for his first rodeo?
Greg: For the first time in a very long time, the Blackhawks have a general manager in charge who has a clear vision of the future and is willing to play the long game. We now have a crystal-clear picture of what Davidson’s plan is. He wants a team with some size and plays fast. He also wants the 2022-23 team to be bad enough to have the best shot at getting Connor Bedard with the first-overall pick. He accomplished both of those over two days. Yes, the return for DeBrincat was underwhelming. But, if the result is Bedard in a Blackhawks sweater on opening night in 2023, it is well worth it.
Regarding the draft, I am delighted with the direction Davidson and his scouting staff went in. They added size, speed, and offensive ability to the blue-line. Then, they added speed and size up front, especially down the middle. I love the Nazar pick. I wanted him at No. 7 and was thrilled he fell to No. 13. Greene will be a player to watch over the next handful of seasons. There is a ton of potential there if developing correctly. Savoie’s game will be very popular with Blackhawks fans if he ever makes it to Chicago. Davidson’s first draft was a success because he proved two things; he is not afraid to make difficult decisions and has a real plan.
Jay: Thursday got off to a painful and emotional start for Blackhawks fans with the trade of Alex DeBrincat. For weeks, reports had him on the trade block, and as the draft approached, it seemed more and more likely that he would be traded for multiple assets. These reports, along with speculation on what a return could look like, set an acceptable return in all of our heads. Multiple picks and a top prospect or two would satisfy most. Well, Kyle Davidson got No. 7, No. 39, and a third-round pick in 2024. A strong package, but not the “franchise ruiner” some analysts had been predicting.
I, like most of you, was unhappy with the return as well. But as the day went on, it became very clear that Kyle Davidson had a plan. He added two more first-round picks, trading Kirby Dach to Montreal for No. 13 and No. 66. He then traded the 38th pick to Toronto for goalie Petr Mrazek, solving their goaltending problem, and the No. 25 pick. The Blackhawks were finally in a position to take on another team’s cap issues to solve a problem.
As for the actual draft picks, they again point to a very deliberate plan. It’s clear, based on the trades Davidson made last season, the players he’s opting not to re-sign (Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalík), and the players he drafted, that he values compete level, speed, and size. Every single one of those picks checks at least two of those boxes. The players with one unchecked box, size, could eventually check those boxes with the addition of a true strength and development program and natural growth. Time will tell whether or not Davidson’s first draft class pans out, but he’s shown the kind of players he desires and has shown the nads to make an unpopular trade.
I challenge Blackhawks fans to not immediately write-off Davidson and his staff because you’re unhappy with the DeBrincat trade. The market is what it is. From all accounts, Davidson did all the due diligence needed and accepted the best value he was offered for DeBrincat. Being unsatisfied with one move does not require you to fully hate and write off a regime. Look at the big picture and let’s see what happens. If these picks don’t work out, we’ll know exactly who to blame.
Mario: I echo both Greg and Jay’s disappointment in the return from the Alex DeBrincat trade. When you look at what he has done in his career and what the trajectory is for him, one would assume that the reports of the return “ruining” the future of the acquiring franchise would have come true. It didn’t. Ottawa gets DeBrincat and keeps every piece of their future. It’s a failure of maximizing asset value and felt like a forced deal when all along, Davidson said he would not force a trade.
That being said, Davidson pulled me back into his corner by maximizing value on the Kirby Dach trade, addressing the need to get a true NHL starter in net, and doing what he needed to re-fill the forward prospect cupboards left bare by the previous front office in Chicago. Cutting-bait on a 21-year-old Dach felt like a bad move since he was plagued by injuries that derailed his development and was playing under two inexperienced head coaches in his time in Chicago. Unless the Blackhawks were getting a top-15 pick for Dach, the deal would again feel forced. Well, they got No. 13 and No. 66, and then flipped their No. 38 pick to the Maple Leafs for Petr Mrazek and the No. 25 pick, so good on Davidson.
It is very clear that Davidson wants to model the future of the Blackhawks with what we have seen across the league as a winning formula for roster construction: speed and size. Every player he drafted had a mixture of speed, size, mobility, and high-compete levels. Watching teams like Colorado and Tampa Bay have sustained success in recent years should help lay-out a blueprint for Davidson now. I’m excited to see how Frank Nazar III develops and with the only two defensemen taken in this draft class (Kevin Korchinski and Sam Rinzel) having time to develop behind the already crowded Blackhawks defensive prospect pipeline, if they have time to reach their ceilings, Chicago may have two real game-changers on their hands.
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