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How long will the Blachawks rebuild take? A few more possible timelines

Three more history lessons to explore.

Washington Capitals v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

On Monday, we explored some best-case scenarios for the Chicago Blackhawks ongoing rebuild, using other teams who were built with multiple top-10 picks as a guide.

To cap off the week, let’s dive into the histories of three other teams who had multiple top-10 picks in a short window and used those selections to build a young “core” of players that became the franchise’s foundations.

The levels of success here have a healthy amount of variance.

Washington Capitals

  • Drafted Alex Ovechkin No. 1 overall in 2004
  • Drafted Nicklas Backstrom No. 4 overall in 2006
  • Drafted Karl Alzner No. 5 overall in 2007

Washington only had three down seasons in the mid-2000s before it returned to the playoffs, and then it only missed one postseason from 2008 to 2022 — and nabbing the two top-six fixtures above helped assemble the foundation upon which it built a team that’s always felt like a part of the playoff discussion but hasn’t always been a true contender. Still, Washington’s pretty much always been at the postseason dance and did become the belle of the ball once in 2018 so, it was ultimately a success.

Along with those high draft picks above, the Capitals found success towards the end of the first round, nabbing John Carlson (27th, 2008), Marcus Johansson (24th, 2009) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (26th, 2010) in consecutive years. Toss in blue-line help with Dmitry Orlov (second round, 2009) and a future Cup-winning goalie in Braden Holtby (fourth round, 2008).

While Washington’s younger core was largely comprised of the names above, it failed to advance beyond the second round from 2008 to 2013. Reinforcements then arrived to get the Capitals over the top: 2012 first-round pick Tom Wilson (16th overall), 2013 first-round pick Andre Burakovsky (23rd) and 2014 first-round pick Jakub Vrana (13th).

Success outside of top-10 picks was crucial for this franchise.

Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Drafted Morgan Rielly No. 5 overall in 2012
  • Drafted William Nylander No. 8 overall in 2014
  • Drafted Mitch Marner No. 4 overall in 2015
  • Drafted Auston Matthews No. 1 overall in 2016

This is probably the best example of what the Hawks are about to embark upon, because Toronto essentially tanked to land Matthews in 2016. After their infamous playoff collapse in 2013, the Maple Leafs slowly burned everything to the ground — although they already had Rielly in the system — before attempting to build it back up.

The top-end talent here is obvious, but this is another example of a team that hasn’t drafted well beyond the first round. The best non-first-rounder that Toronto picked was probably Carter Verhaeghe (second round, 2013), but he was traded away in 2015. Beyond that, there is precious little depth help here. And the last goalie Toronto drafted that’s worth mentioning is 2006 fourth-round pick James Reimer — or 2005 first-round pick Tuukka Rask. Oops!

Following the draft of Rielly, the Maple Leafs waited just five years to get back to the playoffs. And we’re still waiting for Toronto to win a playoff series in this current iteration of the team.

Edmonton Oilers

  • Drafted Taylor Hall No. 1 overall in 2010
  • Drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins No. 1 overall in 2011
  • Drafted Nail Yakupov No. 1 overall in 2012
  • Drafted Darnell Nurse No. 7 overall in 2013
  • Drafted Leon Draisaitl No. 3 overall in 2014
  • Drafted Connor McDavid No. 1 overall in 2015
  • Drafted Jesse Puljujarvi No. 4 overall in 2016

Seeing it on a screen, all together, underscores just how badly Edmonton has mismanaged things for the last decade, because any team that had that many top-10 picks in such a short window should have more three playoff series to show for it — and two of those wins came last season. It’s been a tale of missed first-round picks (hey there, Yakupov), mishandling of its actual talent (hey there, Hall trade) and a complete dearth of NHL talent drafted outside of the first round.

There’s been some bad luck, too, with injuries derailing the career of Oscar Klefbom, a 2011 first-round pick (No. 19 overall). Bad the Oilers just haven’t found enough NHL-level talent outside of those top 10 picks. There are no massive success stories out of the late rounds and Edmonton has been especially poor at drafting goalies. The last one worth mentioning is Devan Dubnyk, who was picked in 2004 and played only one-third of his career with the Oilers.

It took seven years after drafting Hall just for Edmonton to make the playoffs. They spent two more years on the sidelines, were ousted by the Hawks in the qualifying round of the 2022 bubble, then finally had a deep postseason run last summer.

And it feels like that 2022 run was more of the exception than the rule.

Don’t bore us, get to the chorus

The message, once again, is that teams cannot rely solely on top-10 picks to assemble a dynasty. Washington drafted two of the best forwards of this generation in a three-year span but had to supplement those players with late first-round picks once it started making the postseason to finally build a Cup winner. Toronto and Edmonton have been beyond those top-10 picks which goes a long way towards explaining their lack of postseason success.

Before we wrap up this exercise ... Want to see what a failed rebuild looks like?

Late 1990s Chicago Blackhawks

  • Drafted Dan Cleary (No. 13) and Ty Jones (16) in the first round in 1997
  • Drafted Mark Bell No. 8 overall in 1998
  • Drafted Steve McCarthy No. 23 overall in 1999
  • Drafted Mikhail Yakubov (10) and Pavel Vorobiev (11) in 2000

Six first-round picks in a four-year window and only Mark Bell played more than 150 games in Chicago.