If it wasn’t already a given after the Chicago Blackhawks drafted a 17-year-old Swedish defenseman with the No. 8 overall pick at the 2018 NHL Draft, the organization made it clear that it’d probably be a while until Adam Boqvist made it to the NHL on Thursday.
Boqvist signed with the London Knights of the OHL, who drafted his import rights back in 2017. He’ll now spend the next year of his development in the Canadian Juniors, charting a lengthy course to the NHL.
The Blackhawks already signed Boqvist to an entry-level contract in an effort to hold greater control over the next stage of his career. Had they waited to sign him, where he ultimately played in 2018-19 would have been up to his Swedish team, Brynas.
But even after inking him to his rookie deal, the Blackhawks had three options at their disposal that all would have set out pretty different timelines for when we might see him first in the NHL. Scott Powers of The Athletic dissected all three choices in a detailed piece on Thursday, but we’ll go through them all more briefly here to give you an idea of their thinking.
The ideal option probably would have been to have him play another season in Sweden where he’d have continued to be challenged in arguably the second-best European league behind the KHL in Russia. However, that would have required Brynas to make a commitment to giving him enough minutes to grow after playing him sparsely during 15 games last season.
The Blackhawks also could have challenged him against older competition and given him the benefit of adjusting to the smaller rinks in North America by sending him to the AHL. However, that would have been an enormous step for such a young defenseman with literal growing left to do to be prepared for a long season against true adults.
Finally, the Blackhawks had the Canadian Junior route at their disposal, allowing Boqvist to adjust to the smaller rinks against competition his own age. Assuming that Brynas wasn’t willing to make a clear commitment to top-4 minutes, this was always the most likely route but it also seemingly charts the longest course to the NHL.
Sure, it’s possibly that Boqvist dominates the OHL and blows everybody away at training camp next year to earn a spot on the NHL roster. It was technically possible that he could do that this year, but they’re similarly unlikely.
Instead, Boqvist will now spend a year (or two if things go really slowly) in the OHL. Then, depending on how close the Blackhawks feel that he is, he could spend a year in the AHL where he could be called up to the NHL if needed or given a year in Sweden as a bridge to the fringe of the NHL roster. Either way, the earliest that we’d see Boqvist in a somewhat permanent capacity would be 2020-21 or even 2021-22 unless everything goes perfectly.
Once again, this is a move that shows the Blackhawks have a lot of confidence in their current roster and their ability to fix things. Many hoped they might find a player closer to NHL-ready with two first-round picks or even use one or both to trade for current NHLers. Instead, they drafted two long-term projects on the blue line and now they’re making it pretty clear they’re not going to rush Boqvist to plug a hole.
That should give fans similar confidence, but it doesn’t do a lot to create job security for Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville after the fact. If the Blackhawks miss the postseason again and it’s clear that Boqvist isn’t close to helping the NHL club, there will be a lot of retrospective second-guessing about the draft decisions they made this year.
And even if Boqvist eventually turns into a star, it’ll only be of consolation if they’ve already lost their jobs.