In less than a month, the future stars of the National Hockey League will be introduced to their teams. As the 31 franchises gather in Dallas for the 2018 NHL draft, the focus has turned to what each team needs, what’s available, and of course, how they can address those areas.
The Chicago Blackhawks, missing the playoffs and having their worst season in a decade, have a painfully obvious need. Much has been written about how bad the defense is, and while losing Corey Crawford for two-thirds of the year didn’t help, it was painfully obvious how poor it was and just how much he masked those problems. They own the 8th overall pick, and the 27th overall pick, but this is going to focus on what they can do with their early first-round selection.
However, unlike the National Football League or the National Basketball Association, NHL first round draft picks normally don’t start with their drafted teams right away. They usually require some time in the minors, with their college hockey program, or whatever other league they are in. So don’t expect the Blackhawks eighth overall pick to immediately help them out.
That being said, there are several players that the Blackhawks can consider, obviously depending on what the other seven teams in front of them do. This draft has some notable great defensemen, even outside of Rasmus Dahlin, and considering Chicago’s need on the blue line, they are most likely going to focus on them.
QUINN HUGHES: Hughes’ draft stock went up after his play for Team USA at the World Championships, he had a pretty good season with the University of Michigan. According to The Athletic’s Corey Pronman, Hughes is the best skater in the entire draft, while also posting great scores in puck handling and hockey IQ. He was a second-team All-Star for the Big 10 last year. He does have a smaller frame, as he is only 5’10, but in this day and age, the smaller and faster players are thriving.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, Hughes has been on the Blackhawks radar for the past three years. It’s obvious they are high on him, but so are other teams. Detroit, who owns the sixth overall pick, is also said to be looking for a defenseman. He’s shown some offensive prowess as well, with a respectable 29 points in 37 games with Michigan. The only problem is that he is a left-handed shot, which the Blackhawks have a lot of, but very few with Hughes’ talent.
NOAH DOBSON: Another of the coveted defensemen, after Dahlin, Dobson’s stock also shot up after his team won junior hockey’s Memorial Cup. As with Hughes’, Dobson is a good skater with a high hockey IQ, but brings more of a physical game to his skills. A right-handed shot, Dobson is much more of an offensive-minded defenseman, as he posted 69 points in 67 games.
Dobson is also a great two-way player, whom Lazerus considers “more advanced in the defensive zone” than other 18-year-olds. He would probably need two-three years of seasoning before making an NHL roster, but when he gets there, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to place him on a power play unit. This is another selection who would look good in a Blackhawks sweater.
EVAN BOUCHARD: The captain of the London Knights in the OHL, Bouchard was an offensive machine last season. He led all OHL defensemen in points this season, with an insane 87 of them. One of Bouchard’s best strengths is his shot, whom Pronman believes can transfer to the NHL, and be especially dangerous on the power play.
Bouchard will need some more time to hone his defensive skills, but there is no denying that he has great vision. He’s a solid overall player that would contribute to any team’s offensive prowess. Bouchard is also a right-handed shot, something that the Blackhawks don’t have too many of, and that could sway them.
ADAM BOQVIST: One of the younger players in the draft — he doesn’t turn 18 until August — there is no denying his hockey IQ. Pronman and Lazerus both agree that his puck handling skills are fantastic, and his vision can be considered elite. Boqvist’s play has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson, and that can only be seen as a compliment.
One of the drawbacks against Boqvist is that he isn’t much of a physical defenseman, and Pronman noticed that he sometimes struggles to win battles against players that are older than him. That is most likely due to his age, but it is something to notice. As with the other players in this draft, he would need some more time to build up and mature. Boqvist admits it, saying he’s “two or three years away” from the NHL. Still, once he is up, he could be the next Karlsson.
OLIVER WAHLSTROM: Arguably the best pure offensive talent in the entire draft, Wahlstrom put up some insane numbers this past season. In 62 games played, he scored 94 points with 48 goals. According to Lazerus, the Blackhawks are also very high on the soon-to-be 19-year-old. It’s very possible that they don’t choose any of the other defensemen mentioned above and Wahlstrom is available, they would select him.
Wahlstrom has an incredible shot, whom he modeled after Patrik Laine. According to Pronman, he also has a “special instinct” of watching how shooting lanes develop. He’s got a phenomenal one-timer, and is acceptable on the defense. He’s a sniper through and through, which would benefit any team that takes him. Yes, the Blackhawks need defensemen, but if he falls to them, they would be foolish not to take him.
Overall, the Blackhawks are in a good spot to take someone who is going to make an impact in the near future. While they will not help out this year, it will continue a trend of some high-level prospects making their way through the system. Nothing is set in stone, considering that everything can change with one pick. However, taking an educated guess, I would say the Blackhawks will select Evan Bouchard with the 8th overall pick.