The Chicago Blackhawks will have a different approach to this years NHL draft. For the first time since 2007, they have a top-ten pick, selecting eighth overall. However, they also have a late first-round selection, choosing 27th overall, courtesy of a trade with the Nashville Predators. This will be the first time since 2011 that Chicago has two first-round picks.
With the eighth pick this year, most draft analysts have the Blackhawks choosing either Oliver Wahlstrom or Adam Boqvist, barring any sort of trade. As for the 27th overall pick, the experts are all over the place. Out of five different draft sites, from The Athletic to Second City Hockey, not one selection at 27 is the same.
It’s harder to predict the later first round selections, considering the overall uncertainty in some of these picks and the fact that teams like to trade around. The selection could also depend on what Chicago does with their 8th overall pick, but that’s impossible to tell. That being said, these are some of the names that Chicago could call on in the draft.
RASMUS SANDIN: Sandin, a left-handed defensemen out of the Ontario Hockey League, would be a great selection for the Blackhawks. Fans know about their top-two defensive prospects in Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell, but they are both right-handed shots. Sandin has exceptional skills on the blue line, and Scott Powers of The Athletic believes he could fit in well with the rest of Chicago’s defensive prospects.
The problem is that Sandin had a great showing in the playoffs with the OHL and that caused his stock to rise. There are several experts that have Sandin being selected before Chicago has a chance to grab him. He’s a little smaller, listed at 5’11, and Corey Pronman of The Athletic doesn’t see an “explosive gear” that other defenders his size have. Regardless, Sandin would be a wonderful addition to the Blackhawks prospect pool, if he is there.
CALEN ADDISON: Addison is a right-handed defenseman out of the Western Hockey League. Despite being another one of the smaller players, listed at 5’10, Addison has no problems scoring. The 28th best player according to Pronman, he posted 65 points in 68 games, which was good for ninth place among WHL defensive players. He’s a force on the power play, posting 35 points, which led all first-year-draft-eligible defensemen.
Pronman praised his skating, puck handling and hockey IQ, rating them 60 on his grade scale. However, Addison’s biggest draw back is his ability to win some of the defensive battles. The other issue is that he is another right-handed defenseman. The Blackhawks already have highly-touted right-handed defensemen in both Jokiharju and Mitchell. The offensive force is undeniable, but Addison would cause a logjam in right-handed defensemen.
MARTIN KAUT: Joe Haggerty of NBC Sports Boston posted his own mock draft, and he had the Blackhawks selecting Kaut out of the top Czech pro league. Despite being one of the younger players in the league, he was able to post 16 points in 38 games, and performed well at the world juniors. Pronman believes he has above-average qualities, and no foreseeable weakness.
However, during the NHL combine, officials noticed that there was a health issue with Kaut. It caused him to slip three spots in Pronman’s top prospects board. It might be enough to cause other teams to think about passing on him. He’s a little taller, listed at 6’1, and there is no doubt he would infuse skill into the Blackhawks, but it’s impossible to tell, especially after his combine.
RYAN MERKLEY: Merkley emphasizes the definition of “boom-or-bust.” Another right-handed defenseman, experts rave about his skills. In skills alone, Merkley would be taken in the top ten. He was a former No.1 overall pick in the OHL draft, posted 67 points in 63 games, is a great skater overall. In other words, he has the skills necessary to become a great player. So why is he so low?
Having the skills is one thing, but knowing how to use them is another. Pronman believes that Merkley is small, makes some incredibly questionable decisions and can have his temper get the best of him. He embodies the spirit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in the sense where he absolutely dominates in one game, and then fails to show up in the next. If a team can sort out his discipline issues, then he can absolutely be a force. But he would be a long-term project, and possibly wouldn’t see the NHL for four or five years.
K’ANDRE MILLER: A left-handed defenseman, Miller is a recently converted defenseman. However, he does have a lot of positives to his game. Pronman rates him highly in skating and his physicality, and average in the way he handles the puck and overall hockey IQ. The biggest positive for Miller is his speed.
However, he doesn’t have a high offensive ceiling, which is ironic considering he was a forward for a while. Pronman believes that there are flashes of talent there, but consistency is the key. It’s not like having no offense is a bad thing; he could become a fantastic shutdown defender. Considering that the Blackhawks do need a shutdown left-handed defenseman, this could turn out to be a great selection. But there is one more option to be considered.
TRADE: The Blackhawks are looking to make a splash this offseason. They missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade, their core is aging and there are concerns about the defense. Chicago might be looking to use this pick as part of a package to get some immediate help on the blue line.
There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty here, as any of these players could theoretically be gone by the time Chicago picks again. They have success in the late-round portion, and their scouting department hasn’t had too many busts. However, none of these players are going to help Chicago immediately. Why not try and turn it into some immediate relief on the defense?
FINAL THOUGHTS: The later selections are always hard to judge, but in a draft that is as deep as this one is, it makes the scouting department’s work that much more important. Any one of these players would be a project for the Blackhawks, and in addition to whomever they pick at 8th overall, the farm system for Chicago would immediately upgrade.
However, Chicago is still looking to compete now rather than later. My personal guess would be that Chicago will attempt to trade this pick as part of a package to get some defensive help, and maybe slide into the second round, where they do not have a selection. There will be talent there, as Chicago managed to grab Alex DeBrincat in the second round in the 2016 draft.