The Blackhawks defense is bad.
They’re likely having a better season than last year, a trend that should continue, but that’s not saying much. Three of Chicago’s best defensemen came via trades, and of the seven defensemen (more) permanently on this roster, only Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were drafted by the Blackhawks (Erik Gustafsson was an Oilers pick).
So how did they get here? There will be a wave of defensemen like Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin in the future, but where is the wave of defensemen to help in the present? Here’s a brief glimpse into general manager Stan Bowman’s drafting of defensemen, what happened to each, and whether or not they can ever help the Blackhawks.
A few caveats: this will only go up to the 2016 draft. When the 2017 draft is still getting rookies into the NHL (Erik Brannstrom, Cody Glass, and Cale Makar are potential Calder candidates) and there are defensemen still waiting to play (Callan Foote, 14th overall; Timothy Liljegren, 17th overall; and Pierre-Olivier Joseph, 23rd overall) it’s not quite fair to evaluate any drafting there yet.
The Blackhawks also never took a defenseman with a first-round pick until Henri Jokiharju in 2017. The highest they took a defenseman before that was Adam Clendening in 2011 at 36th overall. It’s not quite a rarity to select a good defenseman outside of the first round (outside of 2012, a ridiculous year in which 16 defensemen who were drafted outside of the first round have played 100 games or more), 28 defensemen have been drafted outside the first round and played 100 or more games. Nine more may do so, including Erik Cernak, Ethan Bear, Adam Fox and Filip Hronek.
To be even more fair, 29 defensemen (including 2012) drafted outside the first and second round have played 100 or more games since 2010, the most recent being Victor Mete who’s at 131 as of this writing.
There will also be a section on who the Blackhawks could have drafted, and except for a few notable exceptions, those will stick within either the round the original picks were in or within a few picks of the next round after that.
The Blackhawks drafted: Justin Holl (2-54), Stephen Johns (2-60), Nick Mattson (6-180)
Where are they now: Holl is in Toronto after never signing with the Blackhawks, Johns was traded to Dallas, Mattson plays for the Indy Fuel (ECHL) but was never signed.
What happened: Holl has played 25 NHL games and has long been an AHL key for the Toronto Marlies. Johns has played 150 games and has been hampered by injuries after being traded along with Patrick Sharp to the Stars. Mattson never made the NHL.
Could any of these players help the Blackhawks: It’s past the point that Mattson would realistically be a prospect to watch in the Chicago system.
The Blackhawks could have drafted: John Klingberg (5-131).
The Blackhawks drafted: Adam Clendening (2-36), Michael Paliotta (3-69), Klas Dahlbeck (3-78), Sam Jardine (6-169)
Where are they now: Clendening plays for the Cleveland Monsters (AHL), Paliotta for the Binghamton Devils (AHL), Dahlbeck for CSKA Moskva (KHL), Jardine plays in England (EIHL).
What happened: Clendening has bounced around the AHL and NHL making multiple stops, including coming back to Rockford for a time after being traded for Gustav Forsling from Vancouver. Paliotta has remained in the AHL, Dahlbeck played 170 NHL games before heading back to Europe, Jardine bounced around the AHL.
Could any of these players help the Blackhawks: At this point? No.
The Blackhawks could have drafted: Joel Edmundson (2-46), Josh Manson (6-160)
The Blackhawks drafted: Dillon Fournier (2-48), Travis Brown (5-149)
Where are they now: Fournier is still in the Blackhawks’ system and plays with the Fuel. Brown played some games with the Fuel last season and is now in Denmark.
What happened: Neither of them was ever good enough to get into and last in the AHL, let alone the NHL.
Could either of these players help the Blackhawks: No
The Blackhawks could have drafted: Damon Severson (2-60), Colin Miller (5-151)
The Blackhawks drafted: Carl Dahlstrom (2-51), Robin Norell (4-111), Robin Press (7-211)
Where are they now: Dahlstrom is with the Jets. Norell’s rights were traded to Edmonton. Press plays in Sweden.
What happened: Dahlstrom is good enough for the NHL and has been playing well in Winnipeg, but he may never have gotten above the eighth defenseman spot with the Blackhawks. Norell and Press were late round picks and their inability to make it in North America shouldn’t be surprising.
Could any of these players help the Blackhawks: If Dahlstrom was still in the system, that’d be a potential yes. He’s gone now, however, so no.
The Blackhawks could have drafted: Brett Pesce (3-66), Will Butcher (5-123)
The Blackhawks drafted: Luc Snuggerud (5-141), Andreas Soderberg (5-148)
Where are they now: Snuggerud has played for two teams in the AHL’s Eastern Conference this season. Soderberg never left Sweden.
What happened: Bowman and the Blackhawks were high on Snuggerud coming out of Nebraska-Omaha. After an excellent showing in preseason when he became a prospect to watch, Snuggerud ran into a series of concussions in Rockford after which he wasn’t quite the same player. It’s hard to blame him, but if anybody on this list had an actual chance at being a game changer for Chicago (to this point), before the injuries, it was Snuggerud.
The Blackhawks could have drafted: there’s no huge miss.
The Blackhawks drafted: Dennis Gilbert (3-91), Ryan Shea (4-121), Joni Tuulola (6-181)
Where are they now: Gilbert is playing with the Blackhawks. Shea is playing for Northeastern University in the NCAA. Tuulola is in Rockford.
What happened: Nothing, yet. At least nothing bad. Gilbert looks like a solid depth piece for the Blackhawks moving forward and has played well in Rockford. Shea’s rights still belong to the Blackhawks, and Tuulola is doing OK with the IceHogs (he has one assist in seven games this season after 14 points in 52 games last season).
The Blackhawks could have drafted: No huge miss as of yet.
The Blackhawks drafted: Chad Krys (2-45), Lucas Carlsson (4-110), Blake Hillman (6-173), Jake Ryczek (7-203)
Where are they now: Krys and Carlsson are both with the IceHogs. Hillman was not re-signed and is now with Detroit’s ECHL team in Toledo. Ryczek has not been signed but is playing with the Fuel.
What happened: There’s still hope for Krys, who played in the NCAA until this season and has two assists through his first five games this season in Rockford. Carlsson had 33 points in the AHL last season, and could get a look if there are further defensive injuries to the Blackhawks, but has taken a bit of a step back this season. Hillman played four games for the Blackhawks after his college career ended but didn’t last in a crowded Rockford defensive pipeline. Ryczek was a seventh-round pick.
The Blackhawks could have drafted: Samuel Girard (2-47)
What does this mean?
If Bowman drafted better and paid better attention to the Allsvenskan (the Swedish league Klingberg was playing in) in 2010? Here’s what the Blackhawks defense could look like
Klingberg — Keith
Murphy — Miller
Edmundson — Girard
That’s a good defense. That’s a contender’s defense. The Blackhawks still likely make the Hjalmarsson move for the younger Connor Murphy in 2017 as Murphy is a better skater and younger, but with less pressure, that trade is probably looked on as favorably as it should be. Murphy is an excellent defenseman.
Neither the Olli Maatta trade nor Calvin de Haan trade are likely made, as they aren’t needed pieces. Not with Colin Miller and Joel Edmundson in their positions. As for the draft? Most of the pieces here have been contributors in the NHL for an extended period of time now, so the Blackhawks perhaps never leave the playoffs and get chances at guys like Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist.