We needed a day to let the dust and emotions settle from a chaotic weekend for the Blackhawks organization to come back and consider everything that went down around the 2021 NHL Draft and the trade to bring in Seth Jones.
The Blackhawks still have a glaring need on the left side of their blue line. They still have cap space and pieces to trade, so the NHL roster isn’t set — yet. We’ll come back to some thoughts on the NHL roster once free agency opens later this week.
For now, let’s think about what the Hawks got done at the draft.
Blackhawks 2021 NHL Draft Grade: C
Yes, we’re giving them a C for the draft as a whole. So let’s get that out of the way early.
But that doesn’t mean fans should be (more) angry.
If you read the comments here and on social media, one issue Blackhawks fans have had for years is the perceived lack of size in the organization. After this year’s draft class, that shouldn’t be a problem. Consider the size of their first four picks:
Nolan Allan – 6-2, 195
Colton Dach – 6-4, 196
Taige Harding – 6-6, 235
Ethan Del Mastro – 6-4, 210
Three of those four players is a defenseman. They join a group of defenseman with size already in the organization that includes Alec Regula (6-4, 210), Isaak Phillips (6-2, 195) and Alex Vlasic (6-6, 200). So size isn’t something we should be complaining about as much in the near future.
Allan has the potential to be a nice defenseman. That pick felt like a significant reach but, with COVID disrupting leagues all over the world, scouting was really up to each organization. Clearly the Blackhawks saw something in allan they liked enough to consider him a first round-caliber player.
And, obviously, Dach has the family ties to the Blackhawks that made it a sentimental pick but he also has the skill and size to make an NHL impact in his future. He isn’t Kirby, but a couple years of work could make him into a solid contributor.
So why did we give the Hawks a C?
There are a couple factors, one is specific to the Blackhawks and one that is not.
The 2021 NHL Draft class as a whole didn’t have many really good skaters. The league is getting faster, so the players the Blackhawks selected will need to work on speed as a group if they want to become NHL players. The top four picks we mentioned above will all need to get faster to make it to the NHL.
The issue we have with the Blackhawks specifically is the players they selected.
Chicago has invested heavily in defense in recent drafts and trades. The NHL blue line is young already; Wyatt Kalynuk (24), Caleb Jones (24), Riley Stillman (23), Ian Mitchell (22) and Nicolas Beaudin (21) are all potential pieces on the NHL roster in the coming year. Seth Jones (26) is still relatively young and just became the centerpiece of the blue line.
The Hawks don’t need more defensemen. They need the right defensemen. And we’re not sold that Allan, Hardin and Del Mastro are ever going to be the “right” guys the organization needs.
All three of the defenseman picked in the first four selections are left-handed shots. So are Regula and Phillips (already signed). As is Vlasic (still in college). So left-handed shooting defensemen with size wasn’t a significant need on paper. Yet the Blackhawks still went heavy with those pieces.
Trading back in the first round as part of the Jones deal limited the options the Blackhawks had available; certainly the players we profiled as potential picks at 12 weren’t likely to be on the table. Yet Aatu Räty and Matthew Knies were still available for the Hawks at 32. As was center Francesco Pinelli. All three of those players would have added to the organization’s forward depth, which is a more significant need at this point than more blue line bodies.
Moving back into the third round to select Harding was a big gamble. By most accounts, next year’s draft is deeper than this year’s class. Yet the Hawks moved one of their third-round picks next year to move back into the third this year to select an overage defenseman with big size (Zadorov-like) but, again, with skating issues to overcome. There’s plenty of reason to believe he could have been the Hawks’ fourth round selection and Chicago could have kept next year’s draft capital.
This draft class has potential. But it also has flaws. And lacks a wow factor. The Dach story is nice and we do think Colton has a chance to be a nice player in the NHL, but the Blackhawks going a heavy on the back end as they did without a “steal” feels like Chicago reached on every pick except Dach.
The Hawks get a C because their 2021 draft class is underwhelming. But time will tell if their scouts knew more than others about the players they targeted with their picks.