When you’re regularly a Stanley Cup contender like the Blackhawks have been, it’s important to find other ways to maintain your pipeline of talent throughout the system. One way GM Stan Bowman has done that is by striking gold in the KHL, where he uncovered Artemi Panarin and Michal Kempny in back-to-back years.
But there’s another area where the Blackhawks have targeted an advantage over their peers, and that’s the draft. While the Blackhawks regularly pick near the bottom of the first round, blocking them off from selecting the absolute best prospects available each year, they’ve taken a smart alternative by stockpiling picks in general.
As Sportsnet’s Dimitri Filipovic recently tweeted out, the Blackhawks have had 90 draft picks over the past 10 seasons, more than any other team in the league. It’s the same story over the past five years, where the Blackhawks’ 44 picks is tied for the league high with the Sabres.
The gap is actually rather large, too. While the Blackhawks had 90 picks from 2007-16, the Sabres had the second-most picks with 81. No other team reached 80, which means the Blackhawks had at least nine more prospects in tow than each of the other 29 teams in the past decade.
This is another example of the quiet brilliance of Bowman at work. While he’s gotten a lot of credit over the years for his salary cap management and uncovering relatively cheap gems like Panarin, the Blackhawks’ pipeline easily could’ve cratered under the team’s now-win strategy.
But rather than eschew the draft simply because top-20 picks were never going to the cards, the Blackhawks decided to double down on their scouting and add more lottery picks in lower rounds. It’s a shrewd strategy that helps show why the Blackhawks have been near the top of the NHL for years.
And as we saw with the Tomas Jurco trade over the weekend, there’s value to be found in having a stockpile of draft picks. Even after trading their third-rounder to the Red Wings on Friday, the Blackhawks still have nine picks in the upcoming 2017 draft, including their first- and second-round selections.
If the team didn’t have so many picks, maybe it would be hesitant to give one up for a flier on a 24-year-old winger. But thanks to the way that management has consistently taken opportunities to keep his supply of draft picks intact, such as trading fringe AHLer Corey Tropp for a seventh-rounder last year, the Blackhawks have had the surplus to make additions like Jurco without ruining their farm system, which has produced key players like Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, and Vinnie Hinostroza this season.
The Blackhawks deserve credit for managing their assets in a way to allow them to make moves like this. It’s one of the biggest reasons they’re still winners a decade into the Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane era.