As the decade comes to a close, the Blackhawks find themselves in a rough spot. The NHL roster has aging stars and a few young players with promise, but the team is two years removed from the postseason and doesn’t appear to be headed back to the playoffs this year.
As we look back over the past decade, the draft continues to be a root cause of the recent struggles at the NHL level.
Stan Bowman was the general manager of the Blackhawks for every draft in the decade. Obviously the 2010 championship and subsequent years of playoff appearances kept the Blackhawks out of the top 10 picks in the draft. But, to Bowman’s credit, the Blackhawks drafted relatively well in the first four years of his tenure.
Between the 2010-14 NHL Drafts, the Blackhawks had 46 selections. Of those picks, 22 (48 percent) have appeared in the NHL – not a bad ratio. 17 of those 46 picks (37 percent) have appeared in at least 41 games in the NHL.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2015 the draft success of the team has taken a turn in the wrong direction.
Between 2015-19 the Blackhawks have had 39 draft picks. Only six (15 percent) have appeared in an NHL game. To put that in perspective, eight players selected by the Blackhawks in the 2011 draft have appeared in at least one regular season game.
Those six players are: Dennis Gilbert (2015, 3rd round pick), Alex DeBrincat (2016, 2nd), Blake Hillman (2016, 6th), Henri Jokiharju (2017, 1st), Adam Boqvist (2018, 1st) and Kirby Dach (2019, 1st). Two of the six – Hillman and Jokiharju – are no longer with the organization.
It is worth noting that players from the last three draft classes are still playing college and junior hockey. There are still high hopes for players like Ian Mitchell, Evan Barratt, Nicolas Beaudin, Alex Vlasic, Philipp Kurashev, Andrei Altybarmakyan and, to a lesser extent, Tim Soderlund, Josh Ess, Jake Wise and Antti Saarela.
But the fact remains: the Blackhawks have been in swing-and-miss mode in the draft way too much.
The other issue with the Hawks draft approach has been their inability to develop and keep their top pick. Here are their top picks of the decade:
- Kevin Hayes – 2010, 1st round, 24th overall – signed elsewhere
- Mark McNeil – 2011, 1st round, 18th overall – out of the league
- Phillip Danault – 2011, 1st round, 26th overall – traded to Montreal
- Teuvo Teravainen – 2012, 1st round, 18th overall – traded to Carolina
- Ryan Hartman – 2013, 1st round, 30th overall – traded to Nashville
- Nick Schmaltz – 2014, 1st round, 20th overall – traded to Arizona
- Graham Knott – 2015, 2nd round, 54th overall – traded, zero NHL appearances
- DeBrincat – 2016, 2nd round, 39th overall – still with Chicago
- Jokiharju – 2017, 1st round, 29th overall – traded to Buffalo
- Boqvist – 2018, 1st round, 8th overall – still with Chicago
- Dach – 2019, 1st round, 3rd overall – still with Chicago
The reality is that the Blackhawks drafted well in the cases of Hayes, Danault, Teravainen, Schmaltz and Jokiharju. But the team either wasn’t able to sign the player (in the case of Hayes) or didn’t keep the player around long enough to fully appreciate and benefit from the skills of the player.
Indeed, Danault would have filled a number of needs for the team over the past three years and that trade may go down as the worst of Bowman’s tenure. At least in the case of the Teravainen trade there was a larger reason (moving the Bickell contract) behind the trade.
NHL teams are able to reach the heights the Blackhawks did earlier this decade by drafting well. Sustaining success in a league with a hard salary cap is dependent on developing subsequent generations of players to fill roles around the established superstars. Early in Bowman’s tenure the Hawks did that, drafted players like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw after the first round. But since the 2014 draft only three players – Dylan Sikura, Gilbert and Hillman –were drafted by the Blackhawks after the second round and have even appeared in an NHL game.
This draft record isn’t an indictment of Joel Quenneville, the decision to fire him or replacing him with an unproven Jeremy Colliton. Both men the Blackhawks have called their head coach over the past decade have been asked to work with the rosters they were provided by Stan Bowman’s front office. The record over the back half of the decade is an indication that change is needed above the head coach position.