The Chicago Blackhawks and their fans are in process of prepping for a turnaround in the 2018-19 NHL season. While missing the playoffs was a huge disappointment, there is playoff hockey happening near the Windy City. The Blackhawks AHL team, the Rockford Ice Hogs are in the AHL playoffs. Several of the Blackhawks youth and veterans are leading the way for the Ice Hogs. Fans of the team are watching as the future of the Blackhawks is on display. The upcoming 2018 NHL Draft is also on everyone’s minds as the team is in rebuild mode. What moves they make leading up to the draft may also come into play. General manager Stan Bowman is known for not being afraid to make late trades to improve his team.
Chicago Blackhawks Youth and Veterans
Ice Hogs Rolling
The Rockford Ice Hogs advanced to the second round of the AHL Playoffs with a 3-0 series sweep of the Chicago Wolves. It took triple overtime for the Hogs to prevail in game three, but they eventually defeated the Wolves. The Ice Hogs were expected to play a tough series, but very few expected a sweep. Blackhawks prospect Victor Ejdsell scored twice in the clincher, nailing the overtime winner late in the night. Ejdsell appears determined to push for a roster spot in the fall with the Blackhawks.
The Ice Hogs played inspired hockey the last month of the AHL season, locking up a playoff spot during the last week. This run to the playoffs was led by goaltender Collin Delia. Delia is one of the Blackhawks prospects turning heads among the Blackhawk faithful. In the regular season, Delia was a rock as he went 17-7-2 with a 2.72 goals against average and .900 save percentage. In the three playoff games, Collin Delia is on fire with a 1.52 goals against average and unworldly .949 save percentage.
Leading the Wolves in playoff scoring is Chris Didomenico who has two goals and three assists. DiDomenico was acquired by the Blackhawks in the Ville Pokka trade with the Ottawa Senators back in February. The trade went under the radar for most Blackhawk fans, but DiDomenico produced well since being picked up. He had 8 goals and 15 assists for 23 points in 22 games played for Rockford. The well-traveled 29-year-old appears to have found his game since being traded.
Cody Franson has had an eventful season as part of the Chicago Blackhawks. He signed a Professional Tryout contract with the Blackhawks last off-season. After having a solid training camp, Franson made the Blackhawks roster to start the season. He was in and out of the lineup all season until being waived back in January. Franson accepted the demotion like a pro and was assigned to the Ice Hogs.
He has played well for the ice Hogs contributing nine goals, 19 assists for 28 points in 37 games. Franson was also second on the team during the season scoring six power play goals in just 37 games. He has continued to contribute during the playoffs scoring a goal and three assists in the 3-0 sweep. Franson has turned disappointment into being a leader for the young team. He may be able to secure another contract offer in the season ahead if he keeps up the scoring pace.
The Chicago Blackhawks lost out in the NHL 2018 Draft Lottery last weekend. They were moved down to the eighth pick from the seventh pick when the lottery was finalized. With the eighth overall pick, the Blackhawks may be able to draft a player who can help out in the very near future. The question is which one of the team needs does general manager Stan Bowman want to address first?
On a team with a glaring weakness on defence, do the Blackhawks look to add to their current defence corps? The six defensemen signed for next season had a rough season and will be expected to improve dramatically. Can Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook recover their high level of play and lead this young group to a better year defensively? Beyond these two blue-liners, only Connor Murphy has played more than 300 NHL games in his career. The other three defensemen have a combined total of 213 pro games under their belts.
The Blackhawks defence corps is a work in progress that could use an infusion of offensive skill. The 2018 draft prospects feature several defensemen who could help out the team. The addition of a defenseman who can move the puck and create offence would be a welcome addition. The Blackhawks also lack size and grit on the back-end, another need in today’s NHL.
Here are Ben Kerr’s rankings ahead of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Five of the top 10 draft prospects listed, and six of the top 11 are defensemen. With the eighth pick, the Blackhawks should be able to draft a skilled defenseman. The team will hope this player can make the jump to the NHL sooner rather than later.
The team also has a late first round pick acquired from the Nashville Predators in the Ryan Hartman trade. That pick can be used to draft another defender or add to their forward group.
After the two first-round picks the Blackhawks don’t pick again until the third round where they have two picks. Combined they have 8 picks in the upcoming draft and there are many fingers crossed hoping the team is successful.
The Hawks could also consider moving picks for a goaltender. Hopefully, the Blackhawks will have a better handle on the status of Corey Crawford before the NHL Draft in June. The ability for Corey Crawford to recover from the injury/illness is imperative for a successful 2018-19 season.
Beyond Delia, the Hawks have Ivan Nalimov as their best goalie prospect. They may want to use Nashville’s pick or one of their third rounders on finding a prospect that they can develop at the position. This can put them in a better position when Crawford is ready to move on in a few years.
Moving On From Last Season
Blackhawks faithful everywhere are counting on forgetting last season’s debacle as quickly as possible. As the Ice Hogs youth and vets continue on in the AHL playoffs, a long run will help fans refocus on what’s ahead for the Blackhawks. Seeing prospects like Victor Ejdsell and Collin Delia shine can only bring hope for next season.
Draft day is another important part of the Blackhawks summer. Stan Bowman and his scouting staff have to score big during this draft. Anything less will not be accepted by the fanbase who are still in turmoil after last season. With a productive summer, good times may be ahead for the original six team.
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