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We are just two days away from the NHL Draft happening on July 7-8 in Montreal. The Chicago Blackhawks, for the time being, do not have a first-round pick in this year’s draft. But, they have been tied to a number of top draft picks in trade rumors this offseason including the No. 2 pick with the New Jersey Devils and the No. 4 pick with the Seattle Kraken. There was a short time where the Philadelphia Flyers and the No. 5 pick were in-play for the Blackhawks, but that was essentially squashed by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Tuesday morning. Without having a first-round pick, we haven’t been too conditioned to dive into who the Blackhawks could take at either of those draft positions.
So, for funsies, let’s see who could be available IF the Blackhawks were to trade into the second or fourth picks.
The reason we are here is because Alex DeBrincat trade rumors have been swirling for a few weeks. Frank Seravalli has DeBrincat as his top trade target for Daily Faceoff heading into this summer and teams like the New Jersey Devils and Seattle Kraken have been tied to being interested in getting the 24-year-old forward. As we discussed recently on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast, if the Blackhawks are going to trade Alex DeBrincat, a player who could and should be a cornerstone to the franchise through the rebuild, the deal will have to, in Elliotte Friedman’s words, “ruin” the acquiring franchise and then some.
While the Kraken have the fourth-overall selection this year, the depth of their prospect pool is not as intriguing as the Devils. Which is to be expected since Seattle has only had a roster full of players for just over a calendar year. So while the fourth-pick would be great, if the Blackhawks are trading DeBrincat, it would have to be for much, much more than just the fourth-overall pick. Same situation with the Devils and the second-overall pick. If DeBrincat is dealt to New Jersey, it would have to be for the second-overall pick and much more in regards to future assets.
Let’s say the Blackhawks trade with the Devils and land the second pick. For nearly two years, the 2022 NHL Draft Class has been headlined by Canadian forward Shane Wright. A CHL player who earned exemption status to in the OHL as a 15-year-old, Wright has long been regarded as the top prospect in his age group.
However, a few “underwhelming” performances in the past year have led some to take a bit of the shine off of Wright. Both Chris Peters of Daily Faceoff and TSN’s Bob McKenzie do not have Wright as the top prospect heading into the draft. For so long we have been told that Wright is the best player available that it seems many may be talking themselves out of that thought process.
Prospects Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley have been interchangeable as the second and third-best prospects behind Wright for some time now. With Wright not listed as the top prospect on their boards, Peters believes American centerman Cooley to be the top prospect in the 2022 Draft Class, while McKenzie has six-foot-four forward Slafkovsky as his head of the class. With the Canadiens holding the first-overall pick and with the draft taking place in Montreal, I find it hard to believe that even as he has “fallen” in some draft rankings, Shane Wright is not the top overall selection for the Habs.
With that being the case, for Chicago holding the second pick and with their desperate needs in the forward group, they would be left with an intriguing choice between Slafkovsky and Cooley.
On one hand, you have a true scoring winger in Slafkovsky who has played professionally already in his young career, having played 31 games this season with TPS in the Finnish Liiga. He tallied five goals and 10 points in those 31 games and added another pair of goals and seven points in 18 postseason games. On the international stage, Slafkovsky combined for ten goals and 17 points in 18 games with Slovakia at the World Championships, Beijing Olympics and Olympic qualifiers. His game has been compared to that of former NHL stud Rick Nash by The Athletic’s Corey Pronman, and if the Blackhawks are trading away their best pure goal-scorer to get the second-overall pick and a boatload of other assets, they’ll need someone to fill that role.
But while Slafkovsky’s size and goal-scoring ability are at the level that all NHL GMs covet, the Blackhawks might be looking at their depth at the center position and thinking that U.S. pivot Cooley could be the transitional player they need. Cooley has been a production machine with the U.S. National Development Team over the past two seasons, recording 35 goals and 74 points in 74 combined games during the 2020-21 campaign and then tallying 40 goals and 111 points in 75 combined games during this past year with the USNDTP. The Pittsburgh-native was also selected to represent the U.S. at the past two U-18 Men’s World Junior Championships, combining for three goals and 12 points in the 2021 and 2022 tournaments. He helped the U.S. to a Silver Medal this past spring, was named to the tournament All-Star team and was named the Best Forward of the tournament. He’s ranked third in Pronman’s Top-127 list, where he compared Cooley’s game to that of two-time Stanley Cup Champion Brayden Point, and is also third on McKenzie’s list. Cooley is headed to Minnesota next season to, most likely, play his only season of college hockey.
If it were me making the pick, looking at all things considered in the depth charts and the biggest issue the Blackhawks have in their farm system, my selection would be Logan Cooley. His size is not jumping off the page currently at 5-foot-10, and 180-pounds, but he has time to fill out his frame before making the leap professionally. Like I mentioned, he’s headed to one of the best NCAA programs at Minnesota and the Blackhawks are in a position where they would not need to rush their top pick to the NHL right away, a la Kirby Dach. While Slafkovsky looks the part of an NHLer right away, Chicago is in need of a skilled, two-way centerman who can do a little bit of everything and put the puck in the net. It’s easier to transition a player from center to the wing at the professional level, but rarely ever happens the other way around. With Dach looking more like a future wing, Dylan Strome potentially not coming back, and Lukas Reichel being the top center option of the future, adding Cooley to the mix feels right at the second draft spot.
This is where it gets very interesting for the Blackhawks in this hypothetical scenario. If they were to make a deal work with the Seattle Kraken at fourth overall, it’s pretty much a sure-fire lock that all three of Wright, Slafkovsky, and Cooley would be off the board. Arguably, the next three-to-four top prospects in the draft would be defensemen David Jiricek and Simon Nemec, as well as forward Cutter Gauthier and Matthew Savoie. The door would be theoretically wide open for the Blackhawks to “start the draft” at the fourth spot, much like they did in 2019 when they had the third-overall selection after Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, picking Kirby Dach.
While Jiricek and Nemec have been pretty interchangeable as the fourth- and fifth-best prospects on most draft analysts’ big boards, the Blackhawks have used a lot of draft picks in recent years on defensemen and a few of those picks are just now coming to the top of the prospect system. Last year they selected Nolan Allan in the first round, Taige Harding in the third round, and Ethan Del Mastro in the fourth round, and that followed the 2020 draft class which had four of Chicago’s eight draft picks used on defensemen with Wyatt Kaiser, Michael Krutil, Isaak Phillips, and Louis Crevier. Throw in draft picks Alex Vlasic, Nicolas Beaudin, Jakub Galvas, Ian Mitchell, and the acquisition of Alec Regula and the Blackhawks’ blue-line in the prospect system has a lot to look forward to. For those reasons, if I were Chicago, I would focus the fourth pick on a forward.
When it comes to centerman Matthew Savoie, there’s not much to hold against him. Savoie was one of the top forwards in the WHL with the Winnipeg Ice as a 17-year-old, helping lead them to the top of the standings and finishing the season seventh in the league in scoring with 35 goals and 90 points in 65 games. The consistency in his game is something you love to see from young players who dominate in their age group and Savoie looks the part of a player who should make a living as a top-six forward in the NHL by all accounts. But the Blackhawks’ need at center is one that also requires players with some size and speed and the five-foot-nine Savoie has pace questions surrounding him.
The player that intrigues me the most at this position, should the Blackhawks find themselves with the fourth pick is another player from the U.S. Development Program and often a linemate of Cooley: Cutter Gauthier. The combination of size, pace, and one of the best shots in the draft class makes Gauthier a highly sought-after prospect. Over the past two seasons with the USNTDP, Gauthier tallied 32 goals and 58 points in 77 combined games during the 2020-21 year and then recorded 53 goals and 93 points in 76 combined games this past year. He also had three goals and nine points in six games at this year’s U18 Men’s World Junior Championships for Team USA.
While people harp on Gauthier because of his “reliance” on being Cooley’s winger, he also played plenty of time at center for Team USA behind Cooley and still produced on his own accord. His ability to play and succeed on both the wing and down the middle makes him a good fit for the Blackhawks since they need help all over the forward lineup in the prospect system. He also adds tantalizing size to the forward group at 6-foot-3 and 200-pounds already at 18-year-old. He’ll have time to fill-out his frame and be NHL-ready physically in a year or two since the Blackhawks have time to be patient and Gauthier is headed to Boston College this upcoming season. Gauthier is ranked as high as fifth by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, as low as 13th by McKeen’s Hockey, and was the third-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.
As the clock ticks down to the beginning of the NHL Draft on Thursday night, a lot of eyes are on what happens with Chicago and what happens with Alex DeBrincat. GM Kyle Davidson has said that he does not want to “force” a trade, and the alternative is keeping DeBrincat around and making him the franchise player he can be for Chicago. But if the deal is there to be made at the second or fourth-overall pick that benefits the Blackhawks and ruins the future of the trade partner, then the trade should be made. Whether second or fourth, the Blackhawks would easily come away with a player that would be their best prospect in the system right away.
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