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Why the Blackhawks should be targeting Rieger Lorenz, Jack Hughes, and Lane Hutson in the second round
With the Western Conference portion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs closed by the hands of the Colorado Avalanche over the Edmonton Oilers, the Chicago Blackhawks now know exactly which draft picks they will be entering the 2022 NHL Draft with. For now, without a first round pick, Chicago will have five picks in the second and third rounds with picks No. 38, 57, 81, 90, and 94, along with picks No. 167 and 173 in the sixth round, and No. 199 in the seventh round.
The Oilers failed to reach the Stanley Cup Final, so Chicago holds their third-round pick (No. 94) from the Duncan Keith trade. The Minnesota Wild did not reach the Western Conference Finals, so the Blackhawks hold their second-round pick (No. 57). In fact, four of the five picks in the second and third rounds were acquired via trades by the Blackhawks.
But while the Blackhawks do not have a first-round pick this year, right now, the rebuild is on. General Manager Kyle Davidson has expressed interest in trading into the first round of this year’s NHL Draft, but as of now, the path to get into the first round is: A) Unknown, and B) Muddy. Chicago is not in a position to start throwing away future assets for other future assets, and it seems like Davidson is smart enough to know better than to trade to get into the first round of this year’s draft, which is said to be not as deep as the upcoming 2023 Draft class, for no good reason.
Unlike the depth of talent in the first round of the 2022 draft class compared to that of the 2023 draft class, the mid-round talent this year is believed by many draft analysts to have more depth than next year. With five picks between the second and third rounds, the Blackhawks have a great opportunity to find more “diamond in the rough” prospects. From my own digging, and with the help of a number of NHL Draft analysts, three prospects have stood out as players the Blackhawks should be targeting on Day Two of the NHL Draft: Rieger Lorenz, Jack Hughes, and Lane Hutson.
One of the biggest problems with the farm system in Chicago is the depth of talent in the forwards group, specifically down the middle. As it stands right now, Chicago’s best options for young centers are Lukas Reichel, Evan Barratt, and Josiah Slavin. Those three are behind players like Jonathan Toews, Dylan Strome, Tyler Johnson, Sam Lafferty, and part-time centers like MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev for NHL spots. There is also the slight possibility that one or both of Toews and Strome could be gone from the Blackhawks by the time the 2022-23 season begins. So bulking-up the forwards group and the center position should be something that Davidson and Company are focused on.
Two players who have the ability to play both center and wing and have the potential to be solid complimentary young forwards are Rieger Lorenz and Jack Hughes. No, not that Jack Hughes, and no not that Hughes family.
This Jack Hughes is actually the son of Montreal Canadiens General Manager Kent Hughes. Jack played this past season in the NCAA with Northeastern, tallying seven goals and 16 points in 39 games as a true freshman. He has been ranked as high as 20th on Sportsnet’s 2022 Draft rankings and as low as 69th by TSN. He is ranked 26th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
Here’s what NHL Draft analysts had to say about Hughes:
Plays a mature game and found some success as one of a handful of draft eligibles playing in the NCAA. Smart player with good vision and deceptive puck handling skills. Definitely more of a setup man than a finisher. O.K. skater, but he isn’t going to blow by defenders and he will have to improve the overall pace of his game. Solid defensive player and versatile. Feels like a relatively safe pick that might lack some of the upside other guys in his range might possess.Nick Richard (Dir. North American Scouting, Dobber Prospects)
Hughes is a good two-way player who needs more time in college to get bigger and stronger. I think he’s in a good spot for his development at Northeastern.Adam Kimelman (Deputy Managing Editor, NHL.com)
In his first year of NCAA action at Northeastern, Hughes was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team and helped the Huskies to a Hockey East Championship. At 6-foot even and listed at 170-pounds, Hughes would indeed need to add to his frame for him to be able to sustain a long NHL career. Chicago already has a promising young center in Reichel who also clocks-in around the same physical measurements. But with the Blackhawks in rebuild-mode, he’ll have time to fill-out while playing in the NCAA.
While getting a pass-first center like Hughes, who could eventually fill-out a middle-six centerman spot is nice, Chicago also has a need for a goal-scorer in their prospect forwards group. This is where a player like Rieger Lorenz of the AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League) could slide into one of Chicago’s draft positions.
Lorenz spent the past season in the AJHL with the Okotoks Oilers. He tallied 38 goals and 85 points in 60 games this season, leading his team in goals and points, finishing fourth overall in the AJHL in goals, and finishing fifth in the league in points as a rookie. He earned the AJHL Rookie of the Year award, an honor that has gone to NHL stars Dany Heatley and Cale Makar in the past.
The Blackhawks have dipped into the AJHL in recent drafts, selecting Ian Mitchell in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft and Taige Harding in the third round of last year’s NHL Draft.
Here’s what NHL Draft analysts had to say about Lorenz:
Lorenz is a big winger who put up solid numbers in the AJHL this year. He’s got a good shot, gets to the middle of the ice well and has size to power through checks. The big concern with him is pace. He doesn’t skate particularly well, which was exposed a bit more at the recent World U18 Championship. I think he can improve the feet a bit. I like his offensive sense and I like that he has a longer development runway while going to a good school for NHL development in Denver. I think the skating limits his upside, but I like enough elements in the player’s game to think he could be a second-rounder.Chris Peters (Prospect Analyst, Daily Faceoff)
The AJHL is not a particularly competitive league, but Lorenz brings strength, intensity, and power to the game that may carve out a role in the NHL, but the pace of his game and footspeed might limit him in the future. Hard worker, grinds the game out, but I haven’t seen a ton else that stands out significantly to me.Will Scouch (Head of Video Analysis, McKeen’s Hockey)
His mobility is fine but there can be a lack of footspeed and there’s a lot of movement that doesn’t seem to be guided by much and in the AJHL, that works. With that said, he has a really nice shot, he’s taking the NCAA route which I love and gives him some runway. On a powerplay I think he can be lethal at times. With some development, I could see a mid-late second-round pick being worth it.Tony Ferrari (Prospect Analyst, The Hockey News/SI Now)
Lorenz looks like a bit of a project forward, but again, the Blackhawks have time to develop some project prospects. He is ranked as high as 40th by Future Consideration Hockey and as low as 84th overall by Elite Prospects. He is ranked as the No. 17 North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.
At 6-foot-2 and 195-pounds, Lorenz has the kind of frame at 18-years-old that NHL teams covet. But with the Blackhawks putting an emphasis on getting faster as they rebuild, Lorenz would need to really develop his foot speed and mobility in his time in the NCAA. He is committed to defending National Champion Denver, so if you were looking for a school that develops players very well, he is going to the right place.
While Lorenz and Hughes are both players who have pace questions, one player that is likely going to be available early on Day Two and does not come with questions about his skating and mobility is defenseman Lane Hutson.
Hutson, who is a native of Barrington, Illinois, is a fascinating defensive prospect. He can skate and create with the best of them in this 2022 Draft Class, but what will be holding him back from likely being a first-round pick is his size. At 5-foot-8 and 160-pounds, Hutson is a victim of the same problem that led to Alex DeBrincat falling to the second round. NHL Draft trends will tell you that GMs really, really value size in a prospect. But more often than not, just because a player has great size doesn’t mean they will pan out. And on the flip-side, just because a player is small doesn’t mean they cannot hang in the NHL. But while his size is not ideal for a defenseman, his skating, puck skills, “hockey IQ” and his performance at the NHL Combine make him so intriguing.
Here is what Draft Analysts have to say about Hutson:
A dynamic offensive player, great skater, great elusiveness with the puck. Projects to be able to run a power play at the NHL level. Also he doesn’t think his size will be an issue because of how he’s learned to use it to his advantage.Adam Kimelman (Deputy Managing Editor, NHL.com)
Hutson is an offensive dynamo packed into a 5’8 frame. He plays bigger than he is, as is wingspan is closer to 6’. Great edges and play creation ability. Upside pick with clear risk.Cam Robinson (Dir. Film Scouting, Elite Prospects)
Extremely undersized but extremely talented defenceman. Has great pucks skills and vision to complete difficult passes through layers of coverage. He is an outstanding skater, more agile than powerful, and he uses that mobility to control the offensive blue line well. He also has the ability to shake the first layer of forecheckers to create a bit more space on the breakout. He actually defends quite well for his size but he is often physically overmatched, even against his peers. It’s almost a shame because he has more than enough skill/intelligence to make it as an NHLer but there just aren’t a lot of defencemen under 5’10” who make it.Nick Richard (Dir. North American Scouting, Dobber Prospects)
In recent years, the Blackhawks have added significant size on their blue-line. Players like Isaak Phillips, Alex Vlasic, Alec Regula, Nolan Allan, Ethan Del Mastro, Louis Crevier, and Taige Harding are all in the system and measure-in at or above 6-foot-3 and around 200-pounds or more. Plenty of young size in the system feels like it gives the Blackhawks some room to take a big swing on a smaller defenseman like Hutson.
Hutson is ranked as high as 27th by Future Considerations Hockey and as low as 72nd by TSN. He is the 25th ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. There is a chance that Hutson is gone by the time the Blackhawks’ first pick in the Draft comes around in the second round, but the consensus around the NHL Draft analysts I spoke to was that he very likely would be available in the second round.
He is headed to Boston University after a very successful run with the U.S. Development Program this past season, which saw him record 95 points in 97 combined games between the USDP and USHL seasons. He also recorded eight points, all assists, in six games during the U18 World Junior Championships with the U.S., where he was named to the tournament’s All-Star team, was named the tournament’s best defenseman, and was named one of the three top performers for Team USA as the took home a Silver Medal.
This will be the first draft class of the Kyle Davidson era and it will be an important step in the beginning of Chicago’s rebuilding process. While the “rebuild” cannot be completed in this draft, the Blackhawks will need to hit on a majority of this year’s upcoming picks. Who no first-round pick, as of right now, Chicago’s scouting department will have the spotlight squarely on them to see if they can unearth some real talent outside of the top picks. These three players look like the types that could help Chicago get off to a great start as they look to replenish their prospect talent pool and build their foundation for the next era of Blackhawks hockey.
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