Chicago Blackhawks: A Pattern Of Missed Opportunities At The Draft

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The Blackhawks were plagued with years of mediocrity from the 1990’s into the early 2000’s, a 10 year stretch where they only made the playoffs once (losing in the 1st round). They also hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961. However, this all changed in the late 2000’s. The Blackhawks turned into a powerhouse, regularly winning division titles and Stanley Cups (2010, 2013, 20115). While there were many players that played a factor in the Blackhawks resurgence there were no bigger pieces than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the two superstars the team drafted in the top 5 in 2006 and 2007.

The Blackhawks hit big with these players and they provided the star foundation for the Blackhawks to build around. However, in the ensuing decade plus, while they were dominating the NHL and winning championships and beyond, their drafting missed the mark. And eventually, their team got too expensive and old and, they were left with a prospect cupboard that needed to be re-stocked from the ground up. The Blackhawks are still in that position and have now signaled that they are going into a full rebuild. The Blackhawks could have kept that window open had they capitalized more on the draft over the past 13 years.

The story begins with the aforementioned Toews and Kane. Here’s how they look in the model.

Toews was mostly a consensus top 3 pick. His numbers were not incredible (like most top 3 picks) and, personally, I probably would have been looking at Backstrom or Kessel (who were drafted directly after Toews). However, Toews was very close to more notable numbers (e.g., an equivalency in the mid 30s or more). He was also a 17 year old playing in college already and doing pretty well. This is exceptionally rare. Toews really took off after he’s drafted, eventually becoming one of the best two-way centers in the league in his prime.

Kane was the no questions asked consensus 1st overall pick and for good reason. Kane’s offensive skills were elite, maybe even generational. His equivalencies through his pre-draft year (D-1) and draft year (D0) were exceptional. It’s very rare a player has numbers this high, this early. Really only the generational guys look like this (e.g., Lemieux, Crosby, McDavid). Naturally, Kane has been a ppg+ superstar over his career since being drafted.

Now let’s look at how the Blackhawks drafted (in rounds 1 and 2 – the high value rounds) over the next decade plus…

Let’s start with 2008 through 2010

Have a look at the charts of the F and D Chicago drafted in the first and second round of 2008 to 2010. Notice anything? The majority of the players are older draftees (born in the Winter or Fall of the previous year) and they don’t have very high equivalencies. These types of players only make the NHL about 35% of the time and rarely turn into sars. The two that have had pretty notable careers to this point (Pirri and Hayes) were more on the younger side. This is important, as younger players with equivalencies like this make the NHL about 50% of the time and turn into stars about 10% of the time.

Let’s keep going and look at 2011 through 2015.

2011: The Blackhawks have some really good success in 2011, especially in rounds one and two. However, every single player is of the older variety with less than incredible equivalencies. McNeill, their first pick, only plays two games in the NHL. Danault has turned into a very good two-way forward however it takes him five years to become an NHLer and by the time he does, it’s with a different team, the Canadiens. Clendening and Saad were good bets at the time but, again, both of the older variety.

2012: This was one of the worst drafts ever and, while he takes years to develop (and they traded him away just as he was hitting his stride for cap relief), Teravainen hits. They also find Hinostroza very late. I’ll call 2012 a big win for the Blackhawks. But what do we notice about both of their top picks this year?They’re young (both born in the Summer or early Fall)! Teravainen, especially, was five days away from being eligible for the 2013 draft.

2013: Right back to older with middling numbers but they do get an NHL player in Hartman.

2014 and 2015: What do we have? Older with middling numbers once again. They do get a pretty good player in Nick Schmaltz (traded for Dylan Strome – not a bad deal).

The Blackhawks had ten picks between 2011 and 2015, eight of them were old and none of the players had game-breaking equivalencies indicative of stars. Naturally, they didn’t draft any stars during the entire period of 2008 to 2015. They missed out on Kucherov, Gaudreau, Gusev and Pastrnak, all of which profiled extraordinary … and were young!

Let’s continue on to 2016 through 2018

2016: The Blackhawks hit big with DeBrincat. The first star they’ve drafted since Toews and Kane. What do we notice about DeBrincat? Yes he’s older, once again, but his numbers aren’t middling, they’re exceptional. DeBrincat had similar equivalencies and development pattern to Matthew Tkachuk (taken 33 spots ahead of him), Taylor Hall and Steven Stamkos. A top 10 talent fell on the Blackhawks lap and they didn’t let him past them. Krys was another good bet as he was young with decent numbers. One more older middling player for good measure with the Kayumov pick.

2017: Even though he doesn’t show great in his draft year here, the Jokiharju pick is great value at this point in the draft. Why? Because he’s really young and has a decent equivalency. He has a long run way to improve and improve he does, increasing his star likelihood, season after season! And as he’s about the make the NHL… they trade him out the door for Alex Nylander (who was a year and a half older and was unable to crack a weak Sabres roster). Mitchell was another older player with middling results. He’s developed significantly at least and looks to be a solid prospect.

2018: The Blackhawks do some good work at the 2018 draft. There were some options that maybe profiled better at the draft than Boqvist but, just like Jokiharju, he’s exceptionally young with an above average equivalency, lots of runway there. Beaudin is older once again but he was one of the better options available at that moment.

2019: It’s much too early to tell with this draft. But the Blackhawks again chose from the older and/or middling crowd with Dach and Vlasic. Dach made the NHL directly after being drafted. They got an NHLer there. But was there a better option on the table at 3rd overall.

Now the what if scenario…

Just the other day, I wrote about a hypothetical team that drafts based on the Hockey Prospecting model and what they could have ended up with. In the article, the hypothetical team starts as a lotto team and builds into a contender and their draft position gets worse and worse through the years. This article could have been written about the last 15 years of the Chicago Blackhawks.

If I use the same logic from that article, who would the Blackhaws ended up with with Chicago’s exact picks from 2008 to 2019?

Michael Del Zotto (2008 1st),

Tyson Barrie (2009 2nd), Brandon Pirri (2009 2nd),

Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 1st), Tyler Toffoli (2010 2nd), Jordan Weal (2010 2nd), Gregg McKegg (2010 2nd),

Nikita Kucherov (2011 1st), Adam Clendening (2011 1st), Johnny Gaudreau (2011 2nd), Shane Prince (2011 2nd),

Jordan Schmaltz (2012 1st), Charles Hudon (2012 2nd),

Nic Petan (2013 1st), Taylor Cammarrata (2013 2nd),

David Pastrnak (2014 1st),

Vince Dunn (2015 2nd),

Alex DeBrincat (2016 2nd), Samuel Girard (2016 2nd), Vitaly Abramov (2016 2nd),

Reilly Walsh (2017 1st), Antoine Morand (2017 2nd),

Evan Bouchard (2018 1st), Filip Hallander (2018 2nd)

Bowen Byram (2019 1st), Pavel Dorofeyev (2019 2nd)

The Blackhawks had eight players out of 20 total selections hit in the first two rounds between 2008 to 2016 (the years where we have a pretty definitive answer whether a player is making it or not). A success rate of 40%. It’s not that the Blackhawks didn’t have success at the draft. They did. But they drafted the same type of player over and over again (older players with a limited offensive ceiling) and it set them back. Over the entire period they drafted only one star (DeBrincat right at the very end of the period) and four of the players that did hit were on a different team by the time they did most of their damage (Hayes, Danault, Teravainen, Schmaltz). Call it five now with the Jokiharju trade last season.

Conversely, in the exercise above, the Blackhawks, over the same period, would have had 12 players out of 20 hit (60% success rate) and would have drafted six stars in that period as well. As well, the players from this exercise not only tend to make the NHL more so and more often turn into stars, they also make the NHL earlier. These players would have been on the roster within 1-2 years of being drafted and would have done their damage with the Blackhawks. If the team had drafted more offensive upside like this, it would likely still be a serious contender.

If you’re interested in the analysis and charts provided in this article, you can compare nearly 6,000 players over 30 years by becoming a Hockey Prospecting member.

2 Comments

  1. To what extent is your model built off of or catered toward the players you selected in the redraft? Gaudreau, Pastrnak, Kucherov, Girard and DeBrincat are all the kinds of players these kinds of models get built to avoid missing. I don’t know the exact ins and outs of your model, but it seems to be built off of a db of points, leagues, and age curves. I could also see these players influence the model disproportionately because of their prodigious production. So is this something that has been calibrated or accounted for, or is the model just that good? Putting it differently, are those player selections based on the information in the db when the were selected or are all current comps included?
    Big fan, just started reading your stuff, and I’m really not shouting HINDSIGHT at you, just impressed with the efficiency.

    1. The model is built off of everybody drafted in the past 30 years. So yes it’s built off players like this but I use a certain sample of them to build the model and then you test it against another sample that hasn’t been influenced by the model (a control group) and see if it predicts the same results which is does.

      The way I’m picking is based on what the player looked like at the draft. You’re right many of these guys would bubble to the top but in many cases (Pastrnak, DeBrincat, Kucherov) their production is so rare that they’re very obvious where they are chosen. There’s nobody even close to them.

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