Breaking Down Chicago Blackhawks' Exceptional Ability to Manage Prospects

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Breaking Down Chicago Blackhawks' Exceptional Ability to Manage Prospects
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks haven't randomly or accidentally won two of the last four Stanley Cups. They haven't gone out and bought up all the top free agents, praying to the hockey gods for chemistry and lightning in a bottle.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago has drafted its last two championship teams, and the development of Brandon Pirri as a No. 2 center on the team is only the most recent example of how successful this franchise has been at drafting and developing players since 2002.

At the beginning of the 2012-13 season, the 'Hawks had a hole to fill. Dave Bolland had been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs over the summer and the team was looking internally for a replacement. While Michal Handzus filled the role for a few games and Brandon Saad was given a short trial as a center, Chicago eventually settled on Pirri to fill the need.

If this was just a one-time instance, then perhaps we'd refrain from calling the Blackhawks draft-day geniuses, but recent history suggests that Pirri's success isn't a fluke. If anything, it's all part of the plan.

Looking at the 2009-10 Cup-winning roster, a few obvious draft choices stick out as guys that contributed. That team was absolutely stacked with in-house talent, though, and the 'Hawks simply don't win the Cup if they don't draft so well leading up to the run.

 

2009-10 Stanley Cup roster (homegrown players)
Duncan Keith (54th overall in 2002) Dave Bolland (32nd overall in 2004)
Troy Brouwer (214th overall in 2004) Adam Burish (282nd overall in 2002)
Dustin Byfuglien (245 overall in 2003) Niklas Hjalmarsson (108th overall in 2005)
Patrick Kane (1st overall in 2007) Jonathan Toews (3rd overall in 2006)
Brent Seabrook (14th overall in 2003)

hockey-reference.com

While the selections of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews seem like no-brainers now, they were just as risky as any other picks at the time. Neither were Sidney Crosby-like home runs, yet both were drafted for a very specific purpose.

You don't think it's an accident that Captain Serious and Kane compliment each other so well both on and off the ice, do you?

The team's depth all came from the deeper rounds, though. Dustin Byfuglien in the eighth round? Adam Burish in the ninth? Those guys would have gone undrafted now that the entry draft has been sliced to seven rounds. And that's pretty remarkable when you really sit back and consider it.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Different franchises have different approaches to drafting. A team like the Detroit Red Wings will pick the guy that they think is the most talented, regardless of position. Round after round, you'll see them taking a guy who possesses one outstanding tool with the hopes of helping him develop a second and a third.

That isn't how the Blackhawks approach drafts.

They sit down at a table, look at the long- and short-term holes that will be on their team and they select players to fill those needs. Every pick hasn't been a knockout, but icing a squad with 10 drafted players is pretty special.

As you're well aware, a lot of the players from that 2009-10 team are no longer with Chicago. They were rotated out of town for other moving parts and picks. For the two years between Cup runs, the 'Hawks continued to develop in-house and were able to ice a mind-boggling 12 homegrown guys en route to the 2013 championship.

2012-13 Stanley Cup roster (new homegrown players)
Bryan Bickell (41st overall in 2004) Corey Crawford (52nd overall in 2003)
Marcus Kruger (149th overall in 2009) Brandon Saad (43rd overall in 2011)
Andrew Shaw (139th overall in 2011) Ben Smith (169th overall in 2008

hockey-reference.com

Gone from the '09 roster were Cam Barker, Troy Brouwer Burish and Byfuglien. The killer B's, as it were. Once again, the 'Hawks were able to rebuild on the fly (for lack of better term since they were never bad) by adding internal pieces to fix holes.

Those six guys—in addition to the core guys like Kane, Toews and Duncan Keith that remained from 2009-10—all played prominent roles in the most recent Stanley Cup run (aside from Ben Smith, who only suited up for one playoff game).

Does Chicago have such a dangerous top line without Bryan Bickell emerging as a wrecking ball? Can it do much damage without Corey Crawford in net? The questions go on, but Chicago already knows the answers because it knew the questions before they were even asked. The 'Hawks knew what they needed and what they were going to need down the stretch and made picks to cover those bases.

Bill Smith/Getty Images

Every one of the players listed was taken for a specific purpose. They were selected because of the traits that have allowed them to be excellent NHL players. Chicago never asks a fifth-round pick to grow into an All-Star. Forwards like Brouwer in 2009 and Andrew Shaw in 2012 knew their roles and played them perfectly.

More than anything, hockey is cyclical. It's tough for great teams to maintain greatness in the salary-cap world. That's why drafting is so important, and that' why the 'Hawks are consistently among the top teams in the NHL.

They know who the members of their core are and will continue to draft to fill the more simple holes in the lineup. "We need a third-line center with potential second-line upside. Draft Dave Bolland." "We need to find a fourth defender for our core group. Grab Niklas Hjalmarsson." And so on.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention guys that were brought in as free agents like Marian Hossa or former players like Michael Frolik that were traded to Chicago. The specific-purpose theme extends to those guys, too, though. Hossa wasn't a pot shot. Neither was Frolik.

The 'Hawks knew what they were getting and how long they'd have them for before they needed to be replaced. In two years, we'll be able to do this same thing with Chicago. Who knows who will still be on the roster at that point, but you can bet the brass has a blue print of who will be able to slot in where and by when.

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