It’s “What If? Week” on the SB Nation network, with websites across the network sharing their thoughts on scenarios that altered history for their team.
On June 16, the Blackhawks took to the streets of Chicago and celebrated with its fans during a parade and rally downtown.
But then the focus for the Blackhawks shifted to Los Angeles, where the NHL draft was June 24-25. With a first-round pick (No. 24 overall from blockbuster trade on draft day with Atlanta) and four second-round selections (Nos. 35, 54, 58 and 60), the Blackhawks were poised to add some top talent to their organization.
Looking back at the 2010 draft, the Blackhawks only hit on third rounder Joakim Nordstrom. Chicago’s first-round selection Kevin Hayes, a center, never signed with the team after four seasons at Boston College, but has turned into a solid NHL player with the Rangers and now the Flyers. And the four second-round picks? Only goaltender Kent Simpson played for the Blackhawks, for just one game.
There are a number of players Chicago could’ve drafted at those five spots, but none is more interesting than center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was selected by the Capitals two picks after Hayes was taken and has become Washington’s No. 1 center.
Kuznetsov stayed in Russia for four seasons before signing with the Capitals in March 2014, and made his NHL debut later that month. He could’ve joined the Blackhawks for their playoff run to the Western Conference Final, and maybe he would’ve helped them get past the Kings and to the Stanley Cup Final. What a story that would’ve been.
Kuznetsov would’ve likely changed the Blackhawks’ draft plans as well. Maybe they don’t take Nick Schmaltz at No. 20 in 2014, a player they thought could be a No. 2 center and eventually be the heir apparent for Jonathan Toews. Kasperi Kapanen (No. 22) and David Pastrnak (No. 25), both right wings, could’ve been selected instead.
With Kuznetsov, the Blackhawks would’ve had two No. 1 centers with him and Toews. Kuznetsov had a salary cap hit of $2.825 million for his first two seasons then signed a two-year deal worth $3 million per season through the 2016-17 campaign. The Blackhawks would’ve been able to afford that.
Even if the Blackhawks wouldn’t have been able to sign him to a third contract like the Capitals did at $62.4 million for eight years, the Russian would’ve given Patrick Kane a dynamic center to play with. And that’s not even mentioning the possibility of Kane and Kuznetsov playing alongside Artemi Panarin for two seasons.