By Thomas Gibbons
Part One: Cap Space
The ping pong balls bounced the Blackhawks way Tuesday night as they rose up the draft board from a projected 12th overall pick to the third overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
It’s just what the doctor ordered. The Blackhawks have basically the entire field to chose from. Jack Hughes will go number one to New Jersey and Kaapo Kakko will go second to the New York Rangers. There are a number of intriguing prospects that may not be NHL ready this upcoming season but could make the jump for the 2020-21 campaign.
Stan Bowman has done extensive work on defensemen the past couple years and has drafted promising prospects. Jokiharju looks like he will be a top four defensemen. He just needed a bit of seasoning in the AHL. Ian Mitchell had a very positive junior year and could sign with the team this spring. Adam Boqvist is striving with the London Knights and has eight goals in seven playoff games. His offensive game is something to look forward to. Nicolas Beaudin, Dennis Gilbert, and Chad Krys are other we should see in the coming seasons. Not all of these prospects will pan out and some could be moved. You never know.
So given the amount of defensemen in the system, the Blackhawks will lean toward selecting a forward and there are a lot to chose from. Let’s take a look at the top prospects when the Blackhawks go on the clock at three.
Dylan Cozens, C, 6-3 181lb, WHL
The Blackhawks have had no problems findings young, talented wings over the past few years. Artemi Panarin, Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kahun, and others in the system such as Dominik Kubalik and Mackenzie Entwistle.
Stan Bowman traded away Nick Schmaltz for Dylan Strome and so far it’s a home tun trade. Jonathan Toews and Strome are your first and second line centers. But Toews will be gone one day and having a young center ready to step into a first line center down the road would be ideal. And Cozens may be it.
The 18 year-old is the third-ranked North American skater. Cozens’ season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL was one to watch. He accumulated 84 points (34 goals and 50 assists) and had four goals and four assists in seven playoff contests. Those are nice numbers from a young player. Cozens also played for the Hurricanes for the 2017-18 campaign and scored 22 goals and 31 assists in 57 games. Nice jump from year one to two.
Cozens’ game is highlighted by his speed and ability to shoot, which is highlighted by his average of one point per game. Combined with his agility and speed, Cozens is also extremely physical and competitive, always checking. As mentioned by NHL scouts, “he displays explosive speed with excellent acceleration and can make quick decisions on the fly.- NHL.com
April, May, and June is prime highlight video time. You turn on the tape of Cozens and you see breakout speed. He was the rookie of the year winner in 2018 and to see him build off that season is very promising for his future in hockey. Cozens make a lot of sense because the Blackhawks could use another center and groom someone for the years ahead.
Vasily Podkolzin, RW, 6-1 190lb, MHL
The third rank prospect by Hockey Prospects, Podkolzin is a fierce, but disciplined skater and is very strong with the pick. When you look at the stat sheet, it’s not like Cozens but the potential is there. He’s cracked a KHL roster at 17 years-old. Very impressive.
The one Concern with Russian players is they will not make the jump to the NHL right away. They may stay in Russia for two, three years after being drafted. And it has been reported that the 17 year old wants to stay in Russia. It’s one reason maybe the Blackhawks go a different route on who many think is third best prospect in this draft.
NHL Scouts have described Podkolzin as a deceptive skater with top-end speed when in motion. “He has excellent vision and skill with a quick release scorer’s shot to finish chances. He’s a legitimate threat when the puck is on his stick and is capable of controlling pace and the outcome of games.” Podkolzin is a successful two-way player that is able to have an impact on both the power play and penalty kill.-NHL.com
Now, Craig Button of TSN says there is no doubt Podkolzin will make the jump to the NHL next season. If that’s the case, then he may be the pick. But the Blackhawks can never know for sure. As talented and as much potential as he may have, there are plenty of other players the Blackhawks could take. The risk with Podkolzin is waiting for him and the Blackhawks are running out of time to win another championship with Toews and Kane. If he will undoubtedly join the team next season, he would make a lot of sense. But if he wants to stay in Russia, then the Blackhawks best interest may be to go in a different direction.
Kirby Dach, C, 6-4 198lb,WHL
The first thing I noticed when I looked up Dach was his size. At 18 years-old, he’s got an NHL ready body and the production to back it up.
Dach scored 25 goals, a jump from just seven the year before, and tacked on 48 assists in 62 games with the Saskatoon Blades this season. He’s a smooth skater with a great wrist shot. Dach is even ranked ahead of Cozens and only behind Hughes in NHL’s Central Scouting North American skater rankings.
A deceptive skater with top-end speed when in motion. He has excellent vision and skill with a quick release scorer’s shot to finish chances. He’s a legitimate threat when the puck is on his stick and capable of controlling pace and the outcome of games,” -NHL.com
This could be a no brainer pick for the Blackhawks. You cannot deny Cozens goal scoring abilities, Podkolzin’s potential, but Dach may be the total package. Size, skill, shutdown defensively, and can play on the power play and penalty kill.
The Blackhawks have three great players to watch and decide on over the next two months. The NHL scouting combine will take place in Buffalo from May 27- June 1. Some names we are not talking about now or that I have written about could rise up the draft board and make the Blackhawks decision ever harder. But no doubt is this a fantastic spot for the Blackhawks being able to jump into the top three when they needed another impact player most.