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Blackhawks Week That Was and Will Be, 12/12: Learnin’ from the Devil(s)

We’re back!

Chicago Blackhawks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

In your best David Lee Roth voice:

Learnin’ from the Deviiiilllllllls

Right now the Chicago Blackhawks’ rebuild is in more of the “teardown” portion than the “rebuild” portion but when it all comes together, the hope is that the first few months of that season look something like this season’s New Jersey Devils.

They are a FORCE, ripping off a 13-game winning streak as part of a 21-5-1 start. New Jersey is first in the Metropolitan Division and second in the entire NHL. They’re fourth in the league with 3.70 goals scored per game and second with 2.33 against per game. The 5-on-5 possession metrics are strong as well: second with a 56.80 percent shot share, first with a 60.02 expected goal share and first with a 61.45 percent high-danger chance share — it’s sustainable success.

To tie this in with the Blackhawks, though, it’s interesting to take a deeper look at who the top players are on this team to offer a glimpse at what the Blackhawks road back up the league standings could look like.

The four Devils forwards with the most points this season are home-grown talents:

  • Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 is the team’s leading scorer in his fourth NHL season.
  • Jesper Bratt, a sixth-round pick (162nd overall) from 2016, is in his sixth NHL season and proving his breakout fifth NHL season was no fluke — much to the delight of a certain Twitter account.
  • Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, is the team captain and is playing well as ever in his sixth NHL season.
  • Dawson Mercer, the No. 18 overall pick in 2020, is again playing well in his sophomore NHL season.

The third line from last week’s game is a trio of veterans who were all Devils draft picks: Miles Wood (fourth round, 2013), Fabian Zetterlund (third round, 2017) and Michael McLeod (first round, 2016).

On the back end, though, it’s entirely come from outside the organization. All four of New Jersey’s top-four defensemen (in terms of average ice time) came from elsewhere: three via trade (John Marion, Jonas Seigenthaler and Ryan Graves) and the other via free agency (Dougie Hamilton). The same goes for current No. 1 goalie Vitek Vanecek, who was acquired in a July trade. Although Mackenize Blackwood, who’s been out since early November, started the season at No. 1 and was a 2015 second-round pick by the team.

Much of this reinforces what was learned here back in September: teams tend to emerge from rebuilds when they have high draft picks to lead the way, such as New Jersey does with Hughes and Hischier. But finding a few gems in the late round like a Jesper Bratt are damn near required to make it all work, as are landing key pieces in trades and free agency. It’s a massive puzzle that has to be assembled without clearly cut pieces that still have to fit together.

How many of those pieces do the Blackhawks have right now? They certainly don’t have a guy like Hughes. It’d be lovely if Philipp Kurashev becomes Jesper Bratt but that can’t be counted on until it actually happens. Lukas Reichel might factor in here somewhere but it’s too early to project that, too. Kevin Korchinski seems like a real piece on the blue line.

Everything else feels like a big ol’ question mark.

The Week That Was

Friday, Dec. 9: Jets 3, Blackhawks 1

Sign me up for two months of games without the Jets as an opponent because this team seems to bring out the worst in the Hawks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: Devils 3, Blackhawks 0

This felt inevitable.

Sunday, Dec. 4: Islanders 3, Blackhawks 0

This did not.

Saturday, Dec. 3: Blackhawks 5, Rangers 2

Hey, they won a game!

Northern Lights

After putting together this post earlier on Monday, hope continues to dwindle from this vantage point that the Blackhawks are going to land Connor Bedard because the Anaheim Ducks seem too bad with zero reasons to believe they’re going to improve by the end of the season.

Seeing the way that Adam Fantilli is demolishing NCAA competition, though, it’d be one helluva consolation prize, should the Blackhawks end up with the No. 2 pick. He’s got 26 points in just 16 games as a freshman, playing as an 18-year-old against plenty of opponents who’re already in their early 20s. The only shame is that Frank Nazar isn’t there to start building some on-ice chemistry with the potential future Blackhawks prospect. Fantilli and Bedard are about to assemble for a World Juniors team that should be massive favorites to capture the gold for Team Canada at the upcoming tournament, and all the reasons that those two are atop every draft board should be evident from the first game.

If this is like the 2004 NHL Draft when the No. 1 pick was Alex Ovechkin and the No. 2 pick was Evgeni Malkin, then no complaints here if Chicago is in either one of those spots because they’re both players who can be the foundation of a franchise.

Just save yourself the look at who was the No. 3 pick from that season.

The Week That Will Be

Tuesday, Dec. 13 vs. Washington Capitals

Will Dylan Strome get booed in his return to the UC? Find out during one of those great 8 p.m. starts!

Thursday, Dec. 15 vs. Vegas Golden Knights

Looking forward to Jack Eichel and Tyler Johnson comparing surgical scars during the pregame skate.

Friday, Dec. 16 at Minnesota Wild

Playing at home the night before and then flying up north to Minnesota for the tail end of a back-to-back? Feels less than ideal.

Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. New York Rangers

Let’s get all those Kane/Panarin reunion talks out of the way this week.