Before we dive into our final roundtable discussion of the series, here is the full ballot from each of the four voters for this version of the Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 rankings:
No one on this staff claims expertise and we recognize that there are plenty of worthwhile objections to how this list unfolded. Based on a quick perusal of the comments from the SCH community, it seemed like Henrik Borgström’s ranking was especially polarizing. Got more thoughts? Scroll down below and let us know. Before that, though, the SCH staff gathered to offer their lingering thoughts now that the final article has been shared.
Clearly I’m the most optimistic one when it comes to Adam Gaudette. Our own staff talks have brought me back down somewhat but I remain curious about what he’s going to look like this season. Professional sports are difficult enough: doing it while chronically underweight because of lingering stomach issues seems damn near impossible. With that situation now under control, it seems like Gaudette could take a big step forward next season. Enough to make him a long-term option in Chicago? No clue. But I remember seeing him on college highlights when we were diving into Dylan Sikura footage — Gaudette and Sikura were linemates at Northeastern — and I remember thinking that Gaudette looked special. Perhaps that was just a result of him being a big fish in a small pond at that time. We’ll find out soon, won’t we?
Outside of that, my main reaction to this list is seeing how many guys with NHL experience are on it now. Go back two years ago, and the 2019 T25U25 list had just six guys who’d played in the NHL at the time of that list. Now? There are 14.
I guess that’s what a youth movement looks like.
It was more difficult to sort and rank the prospects this time than in years past, partially because of the COVID-shortened seasons around the world that limited evaluations, but also because the Blackhawks just have a lot of players of similar value currently. After the top two — one of which is proven top-quality and the other of which has the highest likelihood of succeeding in the NHL — it’s honestly a bit of a crapshoot on which players will become valuable and it’s harder still to determine the ceiling of that value. The rest of the players are in varying degrees of their development process, but the defining factor is that their projections are all middle to lower-six forwards/bottom-four defensemen. The SCH staff all tended to have the same players in our top 10-12 and the overwhelming trend is lack of experience (only Strome and Nylander have played more than 60 NHL games) so it seems we’re banking on the optimism of the unknown.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone from near the bottom broke out or anyone near the top was a bust. I had Regula six spots below Vlasic and Kaiser, but there isn’t much that separates them except that I think the latter two are better defensively. And any of those three might end up better in the long-run than, say, Beaudin but he’s higher due to professional experience for me. See, not exactly easy.
P.S. I fully admit that I may be biased somewhat to the collegiate players because I watch more NCAA games than any other. The AHL may be a better league, but the NCAA is just more fun to watch.
It’s always difficult to project how prospects will turn out, especially those who have yet to see ice time at the NHL level. In turn, I personally tend to be a bit higher on the players who have played at the pro level, as I’ve been able to grade them against top-level talent. This is why I’ve been consistently high on guys like Wyatt Kalynuk and Phillip Kurashev (who I believe all of us here at SCH are collectively excited about.)
Maybe I’m playing the role of SCH’s resident heel blogger. That’s not to say I’m not excited to see the talent that exists in the Blackhawks’ pipeline, nor is it to say I don’t think some of those players will blossom into stars. It’s easy to be hyped up on high draft picks or big-name signings. Many of those players don’t end up working out the way everyone expects. It’s also easy to underestimate some of the lower-round draft picks. Only time will tell what this crop of young Hawks talent has to offer.
If anything, I feel that this season is about an 82-game look at a (hopefully) healthy Kirby Dach. An impressive showing from him in the upcoming season will go a long way as to what this team can and will be.
For once my hot takes look not so hot. When I look at guys I think I may have had higher than other people by multiple spots — including Arvid Soderblom — others are often one or two spots behind me. The people it appears I’m most optimistic on are Alex Vlasic and Landon Slaggert, two NCAA-level prospects who both had good seasons last year. I believe Slaggert can turn into a genuine middle-six option on the wing, which is where I’m most worried about offensively for the Blackhawks. Vlasic, to me, is the best version of the stay-at-home defenseman the Blackhawks have in the pipeline and him adding offensive prowess to his game last year makes him even more likely to make an impact in the NHL.
I would talk about my MacKenzie Entwistle take but I wasn’t even the highest person on him. LBR is right there with me on Drew Commesso and Isaak Phillips — a guy I have a lot of hope for — was unanimously ranked in his spot.
The guys I’m lower on than other people is often because I believe I know what their ceilings are and I don’t like them as much as other prospects. Riley Stillman, for instance, played 20 minutes a game at times with the Blackhawks last year and he really shouldn’t. Henrik Borgstrom, even if he becomes an NHL-level player again, tops out as a third-line center (and maybe a bubble third-line center).
My spiciest take this year may be the fact that Alex Nylander, without playing a minute of hockey, rose six spots in my personal ranking, but that likely says more about the current state of the Blackhawks than it does about Nylander.
I’ll have to get spicier next year.