Over here at Second City Hockey, we recently completed our Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 rankings with forward Artemi Panarin topping the list. That’s wholly unsurprising considering Panarin is the defending Calder Trophy winner and one of the most electric scorers in hockey.
But some commenters asked me about tiers, which I imagine comes off the heels of Steve Dangle’s interesting video looking at how the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospects would look in tiered rankings. The idea is pretty simple: basic 1 to 25 rankings don’t accurately reflect the gaps between certain prospects. The difference between Auston Matthews and the Leafs’ No. 2 prospect is much greater than the difference between, say, their No. 22 and No. 23 prospects. Tiers can help readers parse out those gaps.
Now, I don’t think tiers are without their flaws, as they signal clear drop-off points between prospects when things usually aren’t that cut and dry. And how do you determine different tiers for different teams? Does Tier 3 on the Maple Leafs mean the same as Tier 3 on the Blackhawks? Or are tiers simply relative to their own organizations and not meant for cross-team comparisons? It’s not a 100 percent simple solution.
But it’s still an interesting thought exercise, and since we already have a Top 25 list all tidily put together, let’s try splitting it into tiers. I should also point out that while the Top 25 list was compiled based on rankings from me and several other SCH writers, I’m going alone in tiering this sucker up. Lemme at it.
No. 1: Artemi Panarin
No. 16: Artur Kayumov
Okay now a few thoughts on the decisions I made here. First, I think there are pretty substantial gaps between the first three tiers of prospects and the rest of the system. Those eight guys in the first three tiers represent the Hawks’ best young players right now. Below them, it’s a mix of raw guys with high upside like Krys and Kayumov, plus more polished guys with lower upside like Gustafsson and Kero.
I also felt like it was important to separate Kayumov from the other tiers because I think he’s one of the hardest prospects in the system to peg. Personally, I think he should be in Tier 4 ahead of Gustafsson, Johnson and Kero, which is where I had him on my list. But based on these groupings, Kayumov is kind of a man on his own as a 18-year-old Russian winger with legitimate star upside as a scorer but a lot of uncertainty surrounding his future. The Hawks took a gamble on him with one of their second-round picks, and I think it was a smart one to help inject some high-upside skill into the system.
As for the bottom of the list, it gets difficult to parse out tiers once you’re talking about the team’s many mid-level prospects. I’m sure that depending on which scout you talk to, those nine guys could be sorted in a wide variety of different orders. We were a bit more hopeful about the defensemen, although it’s a coincidence that the list goes four straight forwards, then five straight blue liners.
So that’s how I’d place the Hawks’ top prospects into tiers entering the 2016-17 season. I’m sure in a few months we can all look back on this list and wonder what I was thinking.