It’s the same old story, same old song and dance
Oh, it’s this movie again. Seen it already. Didn’t like it then.
Guess this clock won’t be ticking back to zero just yet, will it?
It was July 31, 2005 when the Chicago Blackhawks drafted Niklas Hjalmarsson in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Draft. He played 821 regular-season games, 623 of them in Chicago.
And so much of what’s been wrong gone wrong for the Blackhawks in the last 5+ years can be attributed to the drought that’s followed Hjalmarsson’s selection, which will be of legal voting age in the US next summer.
Here are the defenseman the Blackhawks have drafted since Hjalmarsson who made it into at least 50 NHL games. Note that they’ve all played the majority of their NHL games with teams other than the Blackhawks, though:
- Dylan Olsen, 2009 first round: 124 games, 96 outside of Chicago
- Justin Holl, 2010 second round: 241 games, all outside of Chicago
- Stephen Johns, 2010 second round: 167 games, all outside of Chicago
- Adam Clendening, 2011 second round: 90 games, 86 outside of Chicago
- Klas Dahlbeck, 2011 third round: 170 games, 166 outside of Chicago
- Carl Dahlstrom, 2013 second round: 67 games, 18 outside of Chicago
- Lucas Carlsson, 2016 fourth round: 60 games, 42 outside of Chicago
- Henrik Jokiharju, 2017 first round: 229 games, 191 outside of Chicago
- Adam Boqvist, 2018 first round: 134 games, 58 outside of Chicago/
Going beyond draft picks, there were several younger blue-liners who entered the organization in other ways but the Blackhawks either gave up on them or seemingly had no time for them — yet they’ve managed to find decent NHL time elsewhere.
- Gustav Forsling has played in 150 games across three seasons since leaving Chicago
- Trevor van Riemsdyk has played in 336 games across six seasons since leaving Chicago
- Michal Kempny played in 166 games across four seasons — and won a Cup — after leaving Chicago/
Whether it’s an inability to recognize talent in the draft, an inability to guide prospects along the developmental path or an inability to recognize the talent that’s sitting in the locker room, one of the biggest reasons that the Blackhawks have plummeted to their current depths is their overall incompetence at the position of defense.
Which brings us back to Ian Mitchell, who was a healthy scratch once again on Thursday night.
It already feels like the time is running out in Mitchell’s tenure in Chicago — mainly because we’ve all seen this movie before: a prospect moves up the ranks from amateur levels to the AHL and then finally arrives at the NHL with hype surrounding them. But soon into those NHL games, the ice time dwindles or the healthy scratches start and then a few months later they’re tossed in as another piece in a trade. Call it the Gustav Forsling route. Or the Adam Boqvist route. Or the Nicolas Beaudin route.
Mitchell may not be a Norris Trophy candidate at any point in his career but there sure as hell is something there. Mitchell can skate. Mitchell can move the puck. He does things at an NHL-level pace. It may not be a guy worthy of 20 minutes a night but there are six spots on every blue line for each NHL game and it’s impossible to have a lineup with six Cale Makars. The Blackhawks are eventually going to need defensemen on the second and third pairings just as much as they’ll need a top pairing.
But it doesn’t look like Mitchell will be one of those depth guys anymore. And that’d be fine if it wasn’t starting to look like yet another failed Blackhawks project, another player who seemed like a long-term piece that ends up plying his trade elsewhere.
Who’s next on this list? What reason for any sort of confidence is there that the Blackhawks are going to make something out of its current prospects like Nolan Allan or Alex Vlasic or Isaak Phillips or Alec Regula or Ethan del Mastro when they’ve failed with so many others? Kevin Korchinski has looked so good at times that he may be above this fray, but he’ll be the exception, not the rule. Why should there be any reasons for optimism on any other young blue-liner within this organization?
Because this whole situation is less about Mitchell and more about the Blackhawks’ current regime.
The biggest question mark surrounding the organization remains whether or not it can develop young talent, because the prior regime displayed time and time again that it could not. The good news is that top-end guys like Korchinski and — fingers crossed — Connor Bedard may not require much development. But those are just two of the 20 pieces that comprise every NHL lineup, and the ones further down the lineup usually require some level of guidance from an NHL organization before they blossom into consistent NHL players.
Mitchell’s treatment feels like the similar missteps of the prior regime, that it seems like Mitchell isn’t even getting the opportunity to develop at the NHL level, with his ice time instead going to veteran cast-offs with no long-term future in Chicago like Jarred Tinordi or Jack Johnson.
No, Kyle Davidson is not Stan Bowman. But he worked under Bowman for a decade and though some pieces were moved around when Davidson took over, there are still plenty of people in similar positions as they were under the prior boss who was responsible for the developmental dearth detailed above. Fair or not, Davidson still needs to prove that his regime can take prospects who are not quite NHL-ready and polish their skills enough so that they can survive at the game’s highest level.
Yeah, it’s still early. But these initial signs aren’t inspiring any confidence.