The 2018 NHL draft has come and gone and fans are currently judging how their respective teams did. Unlike the NBA or the NFL, very few draft picks reach the NHL in their first seasons after being selected. However that won’t stop analysts from attempting to grade how each team did with their respective selections.
The Chicago Blackhawks were facing some pressure to absolutely nail this draft. Coming after a season where they missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade, general manager Stan Bowman could have been feeling the heat to make a splash. The team did have two first-round draft picks and rumors were swirling that they were attempting to trade their later one.
That ultimately didn’t happen, but the Blackhawks overall had an excellent draft. They took eight players, taking two defensemen, five forwards and one goalie. While none of these players are expected to make an immediate impact, the future of the team is looking incredibly bright.
Adam Boqvist (8th overall). The Blackhawks had several options on the board at number eight, including Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson, but the team ultimately went with Boqvist. Hailing from the Swedish Hockey League, the defenseman was hailed as one of the top European players in the draft. Corey Pronman of The Athletic claims that the Blackhawks selected a “potential impact guy.” While he is very young — he doesn’t turn 18 until August — Boqvist has been compared to Erik Karlsson.
Pronman gave Boqvist some high grades for his puck skills and hockey sense. Chris Peters of ESPN says that Boqvist might have the best shot of the defensemen in the draft, and that includes Rasmus Dahlin. While all of that is phenomenal to hear, the Blackhawks, and their fans, are going to have to be patient. Boqvist himself admitted that he was at least a couple years away from reaching the NHL. However, when he does, he is projected to be on the top defensive pairing. He needs some work, but the future is looking bright with him.
Nicolas Beaudin (27th overall). Chicago stuck with the pick, even though they were rumored to have been shopping it around. With their selection, they took Beaudin from the QMJHL. Another defenseman, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times had reported around the combine that the Blackhawks were high on the left-handed blue liner. He’s produced some major points during his time, accumulating 69 points in 68 games. He’s rated high on his skating, puck skills and overall hockey IQ.
Beaudin, a left-handed shot, is something that the Blackhawks don’t exactly have a tremendous amount of. Right now, their top left-handed defensemen are Duncan Keith and Gustav Forsling. Even though Keith struggled last season, he’s still Chicago’s best defensemen and Forsling has shown some signs of being a top-4 pairing. Hopefully by the time that Beaudin is ready, which should be a few years away, he can take over for the aging veteran.
Pronman said that the Blackhawks might have reached for Beaudin with the 27th overall pick, but Chicago’s scouting department has been phenomenal over the past couple of years. Why should they be doubted now?
Jake Wise (69th overall). What a nice pick (don’t judge me). The first forward taken on the day would have been selected much higher had he not missed some time with injuries. However, he was still one of the higher-rated players according to Pronman. The Blackhawks need center depth, and Wise could pan out to be a phenomenal second-line center. This could be a draft that many teams will look back on and question why they didn’t take Wise sooner. The draft wasn’t chock full of amazing centers, but he has the potential to be a great one.
The injuries are a little concerning, but his skill does stand out. Wise, like the other Blackhawks draft picks, exudes a high-hockey IQ and great puck-handling skills. He uses the entire rink and plays defense at a high level. Sure, he’s a little smaller, listed at 5’10, and his feet might not fit his body well, but he plays HARD and can get to the play with some speed. Wise has a lot of potential, as last season he had 66 points in 63 games, and 43 points in 38 games in his injury-shortened season this year.
Niklas Nordgren (74th overall). The Blackhawks traded back into the third round to select Nordgren with the 74th overall pick. A right winger, Nordgren was listed as the 30th best prospect on Pronman’s top 74 draft candidates. Chicago did give up two other draft picks to trade up, which means they must have valued what Nordgren brought to the table.
Playing in two leagues in Finland, their junior league and HIFK, Nordgren posted some impressive totals. The 18-year-old put up 42 points in 28 games with the junior league, and 3 points in 15 games with HIFK. A right-handed shot, Nordgren rates highly in his hockey IQ and his puck skills, is an okay skater, and not very physical. In other words, he sounds like a fit with Chicago. He still needs some time to get bigger and fill out his frame, which means the Blackhawks are not going to see him for at least a couple years.
He’s not that tall of an individual, topping out at 5’9, but with the way the NHL is moving it’s not necessarily a bad thing. My personal guess is that Nordgren is going to be a bottom-six contributor, but with top-six potential. He will most likely excel on the power play, but everything else looks to be average.
Philipp Kurashev (120th overall). Chicago’s first selection that was over 5’11, Kurashev is another center that draws a tremendous amount of intrigue. Pronman called him the 61st best-prospect. He’s got good skills and hockey IQ, not very physical, and average skating. In other words, he sounds like a Blackhawk already. However, for all of his talents, there is one glaring question.
Scouts have questioned his effort levels, which drew some people to stay away from him. His overall stats weren’t eye-popping, as he generated 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 59 games in the QMJHL. Make no question, he has the skills to really make a jump, but it hasn’t been shown yet. If the Blackhawks can help smooth over the effort concerns, they might have found a diamond in the rough. Only time will tell though, as this next season is going to add pressure to the soon-to-be 19-year-old.
Mikael Hakkarainen (139th overall). Another center, Hakkarainen is college-bound after spending the past year with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL. He posted decent numbers, 46 points overall (15 goals, 31 assists) in 36 games, but he will benefit from three or four years of college hockey.
Chicago’s vice president of amateur scouting, Mark Kelley, did provide a reason on why the Blackhawks took him in the 5th round. It had to do with the fact that he plays a 200-foot game and manages to get on the scoresheet night in and out. Chicago seemed to notice the lack of quality centers in their pipeline and took a chance on some kids that could be steals. Hell, Andrew Shaw was a 5th round selection and he’s a two-time Stanley Cup Champion. It will depend on how his development in college goes.
Alexis Gravel (162nd overall). Chicago took Gravel, a goalie, in the sixth round. A bigger person at 6’3 and 223 pounds, the Blackhawks are expected to take their time with him. He’s most certainly a project in the works, but with the questions surrounding Corey Crawford and the uncertainty around his supporting cast, Chicago needed to get a developmental prospect in this draft.
He’s spent the past two seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, but didn’t post the best stats around. In both seasons, he had save percentages of under .900. However, the Athletic goalie expert, Cat Silverman, said he exhibits the same qualities that other goalies of the past have shown under Jimmy Waite. Could he be the successor to Crawford?
If that is the case, then the Blackhawks might have another decent goalie coming their way. He will definitely need a lot of coaching, but the future appears bright.
Joseph Slavin (193rd overall). Chicago’s last pick of the draft brought them another forward who is expected to head to college in the near future. Slavin, who is the younger brother of Jaccob Slavin of the Carolina Hurricanes, isn’t expected to make an impact with Chicago right away. He’s at best, four years from signing with the team. However, Kelley said that Chicago was happy with the track that he is on, so they might have seen something others didn’t. Regardless, as a seventh round selection, don’t get your hopes too high.
Overall, Chicago had a pretty strong draft. Despite not having a second round pick, they made some deals to get the best players on their board for when they were drafting. Of course, accurate grades can’t be given until years down the road, but most people were giving Chicago high grades.
Overall, I would give the Blackhawks a B+ draft, based on the fact that Boqvist and Beaudin can become stars in the near future. Their selections in the third round could pan out as steals, which would only be better for the team, and they could have found a quality project goalie. These players are not going to help the team this year, but later on they could become household names.