Prospect Pool Overview: Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago has fully embraced their rebuild with new general manager Kyle Davidson.
That means their prospect pool will be a major focus of the team for the next few years. The jettisoning of young franchise building blocks such as Kirby Dach and Alex Debrincat at the draft is a prime example of that. Debrincat and Dach are just 24 and 21 years old respectively, so moving them indicates how far the management team feels they must go.
Their prospect pool is fairly middle of the pack, but they did an excellent job building it up throughout the 2022 NHL draft. The spoils of the Debrincat and Dach trades wound up becoming Kevin Korchinski and Frank Nazar III, two of the most exciting prospects from the draft class. They also added the top-ranked high school player from this year’s class in defender Sam Rinzel.
Alex Vlasic and Isaak Phillips made their NHL debuts last season and look like they both have futures with the club on the back end. Both are defensive-minded players who can move the puck from their end to the forwards up ice in transition. Wyatt Kaiser and Nolan Allan are also quality puck movers on the way up the system.
Lukas Reichel racked up 57 points in 56 games with the Rockford Ice Hogs in the AHL last year and looks to break into Chicago’s roster full-time. A high-motor winger who makes all of the right reads on the ice, Reichel has been playing pro hockey since his draft year in the DEL. The rest of the forward group in the pipeline is a year or two away but players like Michal Teplý and Ryder Rolston look like they have some NHL potential.
2022 NHL Draft Class
Round 1 (7 Overall) - Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle Thunderbirds [WHL]
Round 1 (13 Overall) - Frank Nazar III, C, U.S. National Development Team [USHL]
Round 1 (25 Overall) - Sam Rinzel, D, Chaska H.S. (USHS-MN).
Round 2 (39 Overall) - Paul Ludwinski, C, Kingston Frontenacs [OHL]
Round 2 (57 Overall) - Ryan Greene, C, Green Bay Gamblers [USHL]
Round 3 (66 Overall) - Gavin Hayes, L, Flint Firebirds [OHL]
Round 3 (81 Overall) - Samuel Savoie, L, Gatineau Olympiques [QMJHL]
Round 3 (90 Overall) - Aidan Thompson, C, Lincoln Stars [USHL]
Round 6 (173 Overall) - Dominic James, F, U. of Minnesota-Duluth [NCAA-NCHC]
Round 6 (188 Overall) - Nils Juntorp, L, HV71 Jr. [J20 Nationell]
Round 7 (199 Overall) - Riku Tohila, C, JYP (U20 SM-sarja)
For a team heading into the 2022 NHL draft with zero first-round picks, making three was quite the work for Davidson. They sent Debrincat to the Ottawa Senators for the 7th overall pick, the 39th overall pick, and a 2024 third-rounder. Shortly after, Chicago moved on from Dach in a deal that netted them the 13th and 66th overall picks in the 2022 draft from Montreal. A little while later, Davidson made a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, acquiring the 25th overall pick and netminder Petr Mrazek for the 38th overall pick in what was effectively a pick swap so that Toronto could dump Mrazek’s $3.8 million cap hit on Chicago.
Korchinski, a dynamic skating defender with elusive and skill, was their pick at seventh overall. The Seattle Thunderbirds defender was one of the biggest risers throughout the year, thanks partly to his four-way mobility and cerebral mindset in transition. Korchinski needs to work on his defensive game but showcasing an excellent ability to read play and disrupt passing lanes with his stick.
Their next selection was high-octane center Frank Nazar III. The U.S. NTDP product brings controlled chaos to the game that blossoms from his creativity with the puck on his stick and the skating lanes he takes through the neutral zone and within the offensive zone. There are times when Nazar will pop into space that was never there until he arrived and finishes with quickness and precision. He has showcased his passing ability at various times this year, trying and completing passes through traffic and layers of the defense that would intimate other less daring forwards. Nazar has incredible upside and Chicago is banking on it hitting after a year or two at the powerhouse University of Michigan.
Sam Rinzel was the player selected with Toronto’s first-round pick. The high school defender brings everything you could want, from a 6-foot-4 frame to four-way mobility that allows him to impress in all three zones. A full year with the Waterloo Blackhawks in the USHL next year before attending the University of Minnesota should be a perfect development path as this raw ball of clay molds into a player that could be a legit difference-maker at the next level.
Snagging the highly intelligent Paul Ludwinski is round two was tidy work for Chicago. Ludwinski is a center who is always in the right place, at the right time. Everything he does is in the name of advancing the puck up ice offensively or getting it back for his team defensively, He doesn’t have the flash some other higher-end forwards do but he is an excellent facilitator and driver of possession. If he can add some strength and improve his shot, he could become a quality top-six center in him.
Ryan Greene and Gavin Hayes are two players who have to fill out their frames and mature physically, but play with high-end puck skill and look to make those around them better. Greene put up 51 points in 59 USHL games thanks to his shiftiness and playmaking ability. Hayes was a key part of a strong Flint team in the OHL, using his dangles and passing ability to help him advance play-up ice, even if he lacked explosivity in his stride. Both Green and Hayes have room to improve as transporters of the puck through the middle of the ice but they have the puck skill and intellect to do it when they are on their games.
Samuel Savoie is an interesting gamble from the third round. The physical forward didn’t display the offensive upside you’d typically see in this draft range, so they are banking on him becoming a high-end bottom-six player that can crash and bang his way to chipping in offensively. Aidan Thompson, taken 90th, is a 20-year-old who tore up the USHL this season and is headed to the University of Denver. Hopefully, his development path to being a contributing pro is shorter and he can translate some of his playmaking ability to the next level after a year or two at the NCAA level.
The strength of Chicago’s pipeline is on the back end. They strengthened it even more at the 2022 draft with the selections of Korchinski and Rinzel, both high-upside picks from the first round.
Kaiser is an evasive skater who is still growing into his offensive game but has shown the ability to make forecheckers look foolish and then move the puck up to his teammates in transition. Allan is the defensive foil to the game that Kaiser plays. He uses his skating to excel in his end, cutting down angles and disrupting play either with his stick or his body.
Chicago could use another difference maker or two in their forward group. They added Nazar III at the draft, but beyond him and Reichel, they lack any players that look like they could reasonably project to an NHL top-six. Paul Ludwinski and Ryan Greene were both added at the 2022 draft but they have to take a few steps in various parts of their game to project up a lineup. Thankfully for Chicago, they look poised to pick quite high in the 2023 NHL draft, a class stacked with skilled forwards and difference makers at the top.
Next Man Up: LW/C Lukas Reichel
The German winger drafted 17th overall in 2020 has done nothing but justify the selection ever since. Seen by some as a reach, Reichel has done an excellent job of adjusting to North America with quite the solid season in the AHL, putting up just over a point-per-game and playing a smart two-way game. He is persistent on the forecheck, getting below the goalline and using his skill and vigor to retrieve the puck. Reichel is a nuisance on the back check, particularly through the neutral zone where he is constantly pestering puck carriers with his stick.
Reichel has utilized his speed and overall maneuverability to manipulate and bait defenders. He understands how to use shoulder fakes and quick cuts from outside-in to open up space for himself. He is a dual-threat offensive player with a good shot that will only improve as he matures physically. Reichel seemed more comfortable each time he was called up last season and should be fighting for a full-time role in the middle six when training camp opens up.
Prospect Depth Chart Notables
LW: Lukas Reichel, Samuel Savoie
C: Frank Nazar III, Paul Ludwinski, Ryan Greene
RW: Gavin Hayes, Michal Teplý, Ryder Rolston
LD: Kevin Korchinski, Nolan Allan, Alex Vlasic, Wyatt Kaiser, Isaak Phillips
RD: Sam Rinzel, Michael Krutil
G: Drew Commesso
For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition!