NHL Draft

Flames Should Look No Further than Blackhawks for Coveted First Round Pick

In Elliotte Friedman’s recent 31 Thoughts column he mentioned that the Calgary Flames are looking to jump back into the first round. The Flames dealt their first round pick in 2018 to the New York Islanders for defenseman Travis Hamonic, and although the trade looked like one that would propel the Flames back into the playoffs, Calgary is still fighting for the second wild card spot with 7 games remaining in the season. The Flames also do not have a pick until the 4th round in the 2018 NHL entry draft, so it seems like if they miss the playoffs they might be willing to move some pieces in order to get into the first couple rounds.

Enter the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that has had a drastic fall from grace this season and were sellers at the trade deadline for the first time since the 2009/2010 season. The ‘Hawks sold off several pieces, including Ryan Hartman and Michal Kempny, and collected a first round pick from the Predators and a third round pick from the Capitals; both of which are in the 2018 draft. The ‘Hawks are in an odd situation this off-season, they don’t seem to be a team that is going to go complete tear down, but seem to be a team that needs a serious retooling and an injection of more youth into their lineup.

The ‘Hawks’ biggest issue has been on the back end this season with an aging top pairing and inconsistent play. The ‘Hawks would love to get their hands on one of the Flames D-men, but that would seem to be a non-starter unless if it was for a top 5 pick for the ‘Hawks to have any chance at. The more likely scenario I could see working for both teams would be the ‘Hawks using the Predators pick to give center Sam Bennett a shot to prove his 4th overall pick status. Bennett has been a bit of a disappointment for the Flames, the 21 year old has played 3 full seasons at the NHL level and has only crack 30 points once, which was his rookie season where he netted 18 goals and 18 assists.

You would wonder why would the ‘Hawks want to take on a player that has just not lived up to his draft stock? Well it could be the cliché that Bennett is in need of a change of scenery, or what I think is that maybe he just isn’t that type of player. Maybe his actual potential is that of a solid two way 3rd line center that gets you 30 points offensively and plays a solid enough two way game.

Looking at Bennett’s Hero Charts it would appear that the role of a 3rd line center seems to fit the trend of his play over the last several seasons.

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The question then becomes is Bennett worth a 1st round pick? Albeit a late first round pick to the Blackhawks, who have some more drastic needs such as defense as well as making sure that their prospect pipeline is being refueled with talent. Another question would be, is Bennett is a true center? Calgary has bumped him from wing to center all season and it begs the question if Bennett can handle the load as a center at the dot and defensively.

Finally, do the Flames think they could get something better for Bennett? Yes, Bennett has struggled to live up to his billing but he is still a 21-year-old who has three years of NHL experience, not something that is exactly easy to come across in the league. Multiple teams in the NHL have multiple picks in the first round this season, just look at a team like the New York Rangers who have 3 first round picks and are looking to rebuild their team with young talent. Bennett would seem to be a good fit there, as he comes at a reasonable cap hit; young and has all that NHL experience already.

The ‘Hawks and Flames both appear to have interesting off-seasons ahead of them if the season shakes out the way it is currently headed. Will the ‘Hawks move one of their 1st rounders to assist in the retooling? Will the Flames look to use Sam Bennett as a bargaining chip to restock their system? What I will say is that this might be one of the most active NHL off-seasons in quite some time, especially for the spiraling ‘Hawks.

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Chicago Blackhawks Trade Deadline Recap

Coming into the 2017-2018 NHL trade deadline the Chicago Blackhawks found them in a situation they haven’t found themselves in over a decade, sellers at the trade deadline. The problem being the ‘Hawks didn’t seem to have a ton of assets to move at the deadline, aside from some depth forwards such as Tommy Wingels, Lance Bouma and Patrick Sharp. One name that popped up as we neared the trade deadline was forward Ryan Hartman, who had noticeably struggled a year removed from a 19 goal season. The ask according to hockey insiders for Hartman was a first round pick plus which seemed like a high price for someone who seems to be a bottom six forward.

Enter the Nashville Predator, who according to ‘Hawks general manager, blew the ‘Hawks away with a deal for Hartman and a 5th round pick for Nashville’s 1st round pick, a 4th round pick and forward prospect Victor Ejdsell. With the acquisition of Hartman the Predators look to be loading up for another Stanley Cup final run and paid a heavy price for it and only time will tell if the known commodity of Hartman out weights the unknowns of draft picks or the undrafted free agent Ejdsell.

Victor Ejdsell

Victor Ejdsell is a big body forward the Blackhawks hope can contribute in the NHL soon.

According to reports the ‘Hawks attempted to sign Ejdsell last season after his MVP season in the Swedish Elite’s second league and has continued to play extremely well in the SHL with HV71 putting up 30 points in 44 games. In post deadline press conference Bowman eluded that Ejdsell could possibly be in North America next season but need to get him into camp before they make that determination.

The Blackhawks weren’t done as they made a deal right at the 3pm ET deadline in which they sent energy forward Tommy Wingels to the Boston Bruins for a conditional 5th round pick, the condition being if the Bruins make it out of the first round of the playoffs or Wingels resigns with the Bruins the ‘Hawks would then receive a 4th round pick instead. This is a deal that is pretty cut and dry, Wingels has been a great player for the ‘Hawks and has filled a ton of roles for them, however he is a UFA at the end of the season and although it sounds like there is a good chance the ‘Hawks bring him back why not gain an asset for the future?

The final piece of news on the Blackhawks front today was the recalling of forward Matthew Highmore for their AHL affiliate the Rockford Ice Hogs. Highmore has had a great first pro season leading the Ice Hogs in goal scoring with 21 goals and 35 total points. Highmore free agent signed in the offseason as an overager from the QMJHL where he played for the Saint John’s Sea Dogs and an extremely productive season in which he led the Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup.

Matthew Highmore

Matthew Highmore looks to translate his AHL success to the NHL

As the season continues to play out and the ‘Hawks continue to fade from the playoff picture don’t be surprised to see players return from the AHL such as John Hayden and Gustav Forsling but also see some new faces such as Anthony Louis and even highly touted prospect Dylan Sikura who is currently finishing his season at Northeastern.

Although the ‘Hawks are poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season, the future is not as bleak as many might paint it to be. The ‘Hawks will have cap room for the first time in years, a focus on developing team speed to catch up with the rest of the NHL and hopefully better luck with a healthy netminder. Even though playoff hockey is not in this teams future getting a chance to evaluate their future talent will keep watch Blackhawks hockey for the rest of the season.

Blackhawks Reshape Roster During Busy Draft Weekend

As we neared the 2017 NHL Entry Draft the Chicago Blackhawks appeared poised to rebuild their farm system and potentially make some moves to alleviate some pressure that the salary cap was putting on their team. Many believed that there was a deal in place with the Vegas Golden Knights in which center, Marcus Kruger, would be moved for a draft pick of one of their surplus defensemen; acquired from the expansion draft. However this deal was believed to be put on hold, according to Scott Powers of The Athletic, because of a roster bonus due to Kruger on July 1st. With this detail being brought up after the expansion draft, it appeared as though the draft might be a quiet one for the Blackhawks. However Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had different plans.

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Niklas Hjalmarsson will be greatly missed on the Chicago blueline (Nicole & Laura Flickr 2013)

In a surprising move the Blackhawks traded 3 time Stanley Cup champion defenseman, Niklas Hjalmarsson, to the Arizona Coyotes for 24 year old defenseman, Connor Murphy, and 22 year old forward, Laurent Dauphin. After first hearing about the move it was initiallythought to be a salary cap dump on the Blackhawks part, but looking at the cap numbers of Murphy and Dauphin the cap savings were minimal. In fact, if both players did make the roster it would actually have the ‘Hawks take on more salary than they were sending out on Hjalmarsson. This move, similar to the one that we will go over in a moment, appears to have an eye on the future; Murphy 6 years younger than Hjalmarsson, signed to a deal will longer term than Hjalmarsson, and at a lower cap hit. Although not the same player as Hjalmarsson, GM Stan Bowman sees Murphy as a player entering his prime and as someone who he is hoping is ready to take that next step in his career. Dauphin who many viewed as a bit of a throw-in with this deal appears to possibly have a shot at making the club in the fall in a bottom six capacity.

We had thought that the day could not get any crazier until Elliot Friedman of HNIC tweeted that it appeared as though the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets had a deal in place that would send Artemi Panarin to the Jackets for former Blackhawk forward Brandon Saad. This was a deal that caught the entire hockey world by storm as no one was expecting it and it was seen as a bit of a reaction to the departure of Marian Hossa, as well as the uncertainty of being able to afford Panarin at the end of his bridge deal. The loss of Panarin will certainly hurt the Blackhawks top offensive line that included Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, but this move finally gives Jonathan Toews the left wing that they have been looking for since the departure of Saad. This move appears to evenly distribute the power on the top two lines with a likely top line of Saad, Toews and Richard Panik and a projected secondary line of Nick Schmaltz, Anisimov and Kane. The response of this trade was quite divisive in that reaction on Twitter from ‘Hawks fans was resoundingly positive where national reaction was a bit more hesitant on the trade from the Blackhawks’ prospective

 

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Brandon Saad is back after two years with the Blue Jackets (Lisa Gansky)

The hesitance comes from the Blackhawks giving up a top ten scorer for a player, who has an offensive touch to his game, but not the dynamic offensive player that Panarin is. Aside from the main components from this deal the ‘Hawks also sent forward Tyler Motte, plus a 6th round pick for goaltender Anton Forsberg and a 2018 5th round pick. Motte came into the 2016 season with a lot a fanfare after an impressive junior season at the University of Michigan, but injuries and lack of professional experience were his downfall. If he can stay healthy and take a season or two to gain experience in the AHL it could turn into a nice complementary piece for Columbus. For the ‘Hawks this trade also fills a need for goal-tending depth, and with the addition of Forsberg the ‘Hawks feel like they have found their back up net minder for the upcoming season.

Now that the draft has passed and free agent frenzy is upon us, it appears as though the ‘Hawks are trying to reshape their roster for the future as well as icing a team that is harder to play against with speed and strength. Are the Blackhawks a better team now that they were at the end of the season? I would say they are more balanced up front but lack experience on the back end which is a bit concerning. With the moves made you would imagine there are more moves that Stan Bowman envisions to get this team back to the Stanley Cup finals and not the first round exit team that we have seen the last two seasons.