In less than a week, the next wave of National Hockey League stars will discover when and with whom they will be playing for, even if it’s not right away. Players like Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko have been all but guaranteed to go first and second overall to the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, respectively.
Thanks to the luck of the ping pong balls, the Chicago Blackhawks are going to be selecting third overall. Most analysts have predicted that this is where the draft really begins, due to the fact there isn’t a clear cut number three player. There are plenty of options for Chicago, who will be looking to keep their championship aspirations alive. The question on everyone’s mind is simple: Who are they going to take?
This article is going to focus on Alex Turcotte, the Illinois native from the United States National Team Development Program.
Turcotte, a center for the USNTDP, has been the most closely linked to the Blackhawks of the prospects discussed. Considering he grew up in Illinois and was a Blackhawks fan, just as Chicago was starting to win regularly, it’s easy to see why. He’s also been compared in playing style to Jonathan Toews, which makes the Chicago connection that much stronger.
As a player, Turcotte has shown to be one of the most well-rounded prospects in the entire draft. According to Corey Pronman of The Athletic, using a sliding scale of 20-80, he doesn’t have an attribute of his game rank below a 50, which would be about league average. That was in his physical game though, which is about par for the course for the Blackhawks.
Turcotte’s skating, puck skills, and Hockey Sense all graded at 60, and overall Pronman has him placed in his “Elite NHL Prospect/Star NHL Player” category. What isn’t graded is Turcotte’s compete level, which is said to be at the very top of the draft, if not first overall. While other draft prospects would attempt a flashy dangle play with the puck, Turcotte is going to barrel full speed into the net, crashing the goalie and firing a shot inside the crease for a high-danger opportunity. Sound familiar?
According to the USNTDP U17 coach Seth Appert, “When you put a puck between Turcotte and another guy, he’s going to carve that guy’s heart out to win that puck. That’s a skill.” Pronman has Turcotte slotted to be a future number one center in the NHL. Once again, the comparisons to Toews are hard to ignore. Realistically, this could be Toews helping train his future replacement as the number one center on the team once he starts to decline.
All the similarities and grades have Turcotte working out to be a phenomenal draft pick. What makes this better is what some sources have said about the former USNTDP center. Scott Powers, also of The Athletic, hadone of his sources come out of the woodwork and say, “Turcotte to me is a draft pick you want if you want to win a Stanley Cup.” His former coach, John Wroblewski famously said that Turcotte is, “Sandpaper and silk.”
There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut fault in Turcotte’s game. He’s not going to be number one in any category, but he does everything so well that he could be the most well-rounded prospect in the draft. He’s not going to light up the highlight reels like Trevor Zegras, or have the hardest slap shot like Cole Caufield. However, Turcotte is going to grind and grind and just wear down opponents with his sheer willpower and competitiveness. If there was one fault to his game, it’s that Turcotte is under 6’, and could be seen as undersized. Once again, that makes him a perfect fit for the Blackhawks, who have thrived with players that are high-skill and undersized.
However, there are some concerns about Turcotte’s ability to stay on the ice. This past season he struggled with both illness and a hip injury. He missed over half of the NTDP’s 64 games. He appears to be healthy and strong right now, but injuries to the hips or legs in the NHL can spell devastation for a prospect or a player. Despite the fact that he missed so much time, this also shows is that he has impressed enough in the games that he did play in to have scouts THIS high on him.
He’s also not going to slot into the lineup right away, as some people might have hoped. Turcotte is set to attend the University of Wisconsin and will most likely be there for one year before slotting into an NHL lineup, also like Toews. Some patience is going to be required, but good things come to those who wait.
The bottom line is that the Blackhawks have spent some serious draft capital on defensemen that are either close to NHL-ready or about to compete for a roster spot. Due to that focus on finding the next replacements for Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, their forward prospect corps are seriously lacking. While adding Turcotte isn’t going to be the final straw for Chicago, it is going to somewhat balance their roster in years to come.
What can’t be ignored is the marketing focus that this selection would bring for the Blackhawks. They were already going to market and glorify the hell out of this pick, considering it’s the highest selection they’ve had in over 10 years, but Turcotte is on a different level. Bringing in the kid who resembles one of the faces of the franchise AND is based out of Illinois AND grew up a Blackhawks fan would make life so much easier for the Blackhawks marketing department.
Selecting Turcotte with the number three overall pick would be a huge boon for the Chicago Blackhawks. Considering all the fire that he plays with, and his comparisons to some of the better, if not elite, NHL centers, this could help re-open Chicago’s championship window. Toews is still the number one center on this team, but recent playoff runs from other teams have shown that center depth is crucial to have any sort of success. Having a future number one center on the third line is only going to make Chicago that much stronger. It’s gonna be a long year, but the sky’s the limit for Turcotte.