Second City Hockey’s 2022-23 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2022. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.
The first draft under Chicago Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson had an obvious emphasis on speedy, “high-energy” players, so selecting two-way center Paul Ludwinski in the second-round should have come as no surprise, because he checks both those boxes.
The 5-foot-11 forward was arguably a top-five straight-line skater in the 2022 draft, and one of the most effective puck handlers at top speed in the OHL. Stellar acceleration and strong edgework means Ludwinski often makes defenders look silly by deking around them almost effortlessly, mastering the neutral zone in a way that is reminiscent of successful modern-NHL players. Additionally, he’s a puck-hound who employs smart stickwork, so Ludwinski tends to be relentless on the forecheck and forces turnovers regularly.
However, that need for speed sometimes got Ludwinski into trouble: most of his mistakes stem from him rushing plays in some way, as Elite Prospects OHL scout Lauren Kelly observed:
“It often seemed as if Ludwinski was playing at a pace that most of his OHL linemates couldn’t match, regularly rushing passes before plays could develop or mistiming his off-puck routes by arriving into space too early.”
And Ludwinski himself notes that pace-control is an area of his game he needs to improve:
Blackhawks 39th pick Paul Ludwinski: "Defensive wise, I'm perfect. The only thing I need to work on is patience with the puck in the O-zone. I play with a high motor, so I go 200 mph all the time. But in front of their net, it's good to slow it down, just like how Kane does."— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) July 8, 2022
An argument could be made that Ludwinski needs to play with higher quality linemates, which is definitely possible, but it’s a concern on whether he can adapt to and work with varying teammates for the best results possible. Sometimes players who require specific conditions to be effective haven’t been able to translate their obvious skills to the NHL. This concern is likely the main reason why most pundits rated Ludwinski outside of the first round despite his already NHL-caliber skating and developable toolkit.
This lack of pace control was most easily seen as an issue in Ludwinski’s poduction. He didn’t really “wow” offensively last season, with a rate of just 0.64 points-per-game in the regular season which is fine but not spectacular by any means. It’s important to note that Ludwinski did improve as the season progressed, especially in the postseason, when his production rate jumped to 1.06 PPG. This was tied for third-best on the Kingston Frontenacs, a decently impressive feat considering all but one of the players (Shane Wright) who tallied more points than Ludwinski were older.
The Blackhawks haven’t been able to find forwards who have such an effective combination of skating with puck handling — including some creativity in the neutral zone — outside of the first round for a while, so Ludwinski’s selection is a worthy one. The fact that he’s already top-notch defensively as well is icing on top.
Some clips of Paul Ludwinski's shot and playmaking skills pic.twitter.com/EP4p1Y2U48— Jérémi Plourde (@jeremiplourde_) May 25, 2022
Some clips to show how good Paul Ludwinski is on the forecheck pic.twitter.com/BsQmaQZ5is— Jérémi Plourde (@jeremiplourde_) May 24, 2022
This was a beauty of a goal the other night for Paul Ludwinski.— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) April 27, 2022
Good communication with the stick tap, gets open, collects the puck off of a pass, extends the puck far enough to evade the attacker and then scores off of a medium danger wrist shot. #2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/2jg71m6Nj1
Ludwinski will return to Kingston in the OHL, and he’s expected to play top-six minutes and possibly in all situations for the team. He has a solid floor as a lower-line, checking center who excels in transition, but he also has decent upside potential to become a second-line player if his offense can advance as he develops. Fans should be patient as his obvious skillset may make them believe he’s ready for advancement to higher leagues before he really is, and a mature development process is going to be key in determining his role in the NHL.