As the Chicago Blackhawks enter the 2018 NHL Draft on Friday and Saturday, they find themselves in a similar position as their roommates at the United Center. Both the Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls own a top-10 pick as well as another first-round choice in the 20s, and it affords them plenty of flexibility.
But while we’re all buzzing about the Bulls possibly making splashes at Nos. 7 and 22 or via trade, the Blackhawks enter their draft weekend relatively dramaless. Some of that has to do with our general confidence in the Blackhawks front office and most of the rest of it is rooted in the fact that the general fan has no idea who most of these hockey prospects are.
Of course, college basketball offers a much grander stage to get to know our future NBA stars. But what you need to know about this NHL draft class is that it’s deep and going to give the Blackhawks opportunities to improve in both the short and long term.
After a disappointing last-place finish in the Central last season, we know that the Blackhawks have major roster holes to plug. Yet, because of an intact core we’ve come to know and trust over the past decade, you’d be hard-pressed to find many fans who think that title contention is more than a few solid moves away.
That makes this offseason as a whole incredibly exciting because the organization has finally dug itself out of the salary cap hell that forced them to turn their roster over after multiple Stanley Cup runs. In addition to the two first-round picks, Scott Powers of The Athletic estimated recently that they could have upwards of $20 million in cap space to spend on roughly five roster openings.
And that creates the only major question mark for Friday night other than who the Blackhawks might pick. Because conventional wisdom tells us that Chicago will likely hold onto their No. 8 pick and take one of several prospects available who have the all-important skating and puck-handling skills the organization always covets.
However, that No. 27 pick opens some doors for the Blackhawks to either move up and grab a prospect they’re in love with or (more likely) flip it for a player who can help in the NHL right now. One particularly interesting name the Blackhawks have reportedly made inquiries about is Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk.
Acquiring him would likely cost that No. 27 pick and a prospect or two. But if you can pull the deal off, you’d be getting a top-4 defensemen to pair with Duncan Keith for essentially the cost of Ryan Hartman. That’s a pretty incredible deal considering the organization’s forward depth.
As for that No. 8 pick, the name you’re seeing most often in the mock drafts that matter (they’re all crapshoots but some people at least have scouting sources who can help indicate if a team might be genuinely interested in a prospect) is winger Oliver Wahlstrom. He’s a potential star with scoring touch to pair with elite possession attributes.
If a defenseman like Quinn Hughes were somehow available at No. 8, they’d obviously be interested. That just doesn’t seem likely given the gap in quality defensemen available after Rasmus Dahlin and Hughes.
Some other names to read up on include winger Brady Tkachuk (son of Keith and brother of Matthew), center Jesperi Kotkaniemi and center Barrett Hayton. But while it could ultimately be any of these kids who hear their name called, the drama is lost in the reality that they all project as potential stars.
By many accounts, Wahlstrom has the highest ceiling, but a legendary name like Tkachuk would certainly intrigue and then the two centers fit an even bigger need than their wing counterparts. So there are options, yes, but we’re going to be inclined to simply give Stan Bowman the benefit of the doubt with whomever the choice may be.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We all assume the Blackhawks’ nightmare 2017-18 campaign was an aberration. The Bulls, on the other hand, are actually rebuilding. While they have dozens of options at their disposal with both draft picks, there’s enormous risk involved given their situation.
More pressure is on the Bulls, giving the Blackhawks the opportunity to go quietly about their business this weekend.
That probably suits Bowman and the organization just fine.