Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson: Offseason moves will create better development path in NHL, AHL

CHICAGO — Kevin Korchinski probably wasn’t ready for the NHL last season. Lukas Reichel showed signs as the season went on that he needed a reboot in Rockford.

Wyatt Kaiser could have likely benefitted from joining the IceHogs sooner, too. It was good for Isaak Phillips and Louis Crevier to get NHL looks, but they were overexposed after a while. Frank Nazar and Landon Slaggert displayed some positives after joining the Blackhawks from college, but it’d be a stretch to declare them ready to be full-time NHL players.

Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson didn’t come out and say all that Friday, but it’s apparent he understood last season wasn’t the ideal development situation for the future. His hands were a bit tied with where he put Korchinski last season, but it’s also arguable the Blackhawks defensive group wasn’t good enough to support Korchinski. Regardless, Davidson’s long-term plan hinges on the development of Korchinski, those other young players and many more, and last season wasn’t the perfect development environment for his prospects at the NHL or AHL level. To be fair, injuries played a part in that as well.

So, heading into this offseason, Davidson recognized he needed to address that. And by adding nine players in the last week, he believes he’s done just that. Davidson’s hope is he elevated the level of the NHL group, brought in players who fit more specific roles and better protected the Blackhawks’ depth if another series of injuries occurs. Those players also can potentially establish a higher bar for the younger players to compete against for roster spots and with as teammates. With it all, Davidson is also optimistic he can now bring along his prospects when they’re absolutely NHL-ready and also develop an even better environment in Rockford.

“When you’re signing players in free agency right in the start of the UFA season, it’s just a different level of player, so that’s exciting,” Davidson said at Fifth Third Arena on Friday. “I believe we’ve got a position where we can be responsible with development and we can create roster competition, accountability, raise the level of our NHL team, but also protect against things like we saw last year. Look, I’ve been in Chicago for over 10 years, and I’ve never seen a rash of injuries like that, so you don’t plan on that. You don’t sign a team around that. But we went through it last year, and we were not the deepest team to begin with and we became a really shallow team in the middle of that year with all those injuries. That’s not fair to the veterans, not fair especially to the young players, having to step in and play such heavy minutes that early in their career. … That’s not healthy for their development. That’s not what we want.”

The biggest question that arose after Davidson went out in the past week and acquired Ilya Mikheyev and signed Tyler Bertuzzi, Teuvo Teravainen, Craig Smith, Patrick Maroon, Joey Anderson, Alec Martinez, TJ Brodie and Laurent Brossoit was whether he’d be blocking the path for the Blackhawks’ young players and possibly delaying the rebuild. Davidson was confident he wasn’t.

“I don’t see anyone being blocked, especially to the point of development being hindered here,” Davidson said. “If players are ready, especially young players are ready and they’re ready to come in and elevate the group, more so than a player who’s in a spot, then we’ll make the decision on how to best find a role for them and find that.

“But what we couldn’t do is what I believe happened a little last year, where we had spots for young players, and then maybe they’re ready, maybe they were not quite thriving, you can’t fix that in September. You have to have bodies in order to make sure, if you do need to give a prospect more time, you have to do that in July. You have to have the bodies there so there’s an opportunity for development, whether it’s in Rockford, whether it’s a lesser role. You can’t fill those spots with veteran players ahead of some young guys who aren’t quite ready in September. It’s too late.”

Davidson hasn’t spoken in the past much about any specific development model to follow, but he did make note Friday of what the Dallas Stars have done with their prospects in recent years.

“I really admire, they’re in a different situation than us, but I really admire the development path that Dallas took with Thomas Harley and a Logan Stankoven,” Davidson said. “Those players were brought in when they were ready to go, and they were ready to elevate the group. You saw with Stankoven, he was like a late-season addition last year for Dallas, where he spent the time in the AHL, was really good in the AHL. I’m sure if that was our situation, we had a player doing that, we would’ve heard very early on that he needed to be up. But Dallas waited, they were patient and he came in and was one of their more effective players down the stretch in the playoffs.

“That’s more of the situation that we’d like to follow, rather than put them in and hope that it works out throughout the year. It can work for two weeks, a month, like we saw with even Wyatt (Kaiser) last year, good out of the gates. It’s a tough league for young guys to thrive in and we want our players to thrive. The one thing we’ve got at our disposal is Rockford. I don’t know if we’ve had a player that’s gone down and come back up that hasn’t gotten better in Rockford. So we’ve got a ton of trust in Anders (Sorensen) and his staff and development staff working in Rockford to make sure players go down there, they’re going to be better and all the evidence has shown they do get better in Rockford. If that’s the path they need to go, then we’ll use that.”

Considering all that, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Blackhawks start off next season as a much older team than a season ago. Connor Bedard and Alex Vlasic aren’t going to Rockford, and Reichel isn’t either considering he requires waivers next season, but no one else should be ruled out.

On the defense with Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, Vlasic, Martinez and Brodie in place, there might be one full-time spot for a young player to take. Among the forwards, there might be realistically zero spots. And with Brossoit coming into the goalie group, there definitely isn’t a spot.

That means Arvid Söderblom will be back in net in Rockford. That likely means Nazar, Slaggert, Colton Dach and other young forwards hopeful to make the NHL roster will likely have to be dominant in camp or will be headed to Rockford as well. And for all the young defensemen, including Kaiser, Korchinski, Phillips, Crevier, Ethan Del Mastro and Nolan Allan, that means most will be in Rockford. Davidson didn’t have an update on whether 2024 first-round pick Artyom Levshunov would sign or return to college, but if Levshunov did turn pro, he’d be expected to be with the IceHogs as well.

Davidson was asked Friday specifically about Korchinski’s situation for next season.

“We’ve created some competition around roles, that’s what we wanted to do after the season,” Davidson said. “So him, much like anyone else, he has to come in and take a spot. Young guys will have to be convincing in doing so. What we don’t want is to give them a spot and then after a month or so, it’s just not working out and we had to clear someone out to clear a spot for them and then we can’t get that player back. we want to be sure they’re going to come in and elevate the whole group through their play and be able to sustain that. so, they have to come in and take a role.”

The Blackhawks will likely be a different team next season with more veterans, but Davidson hasn’t altered his long-term plan much. That plan could potentially now include players that Davidson gave three- and four-year contracts to, Teravainen and Bertuzzi. But beyond them, he’s kept roster spots flexible a few years down the road for Nazar, Oliver Moore, among other prospects and limited his long-term salary cap commitments in order to pay Bedard and others who will be due contracts in the coming years.

Davidson knows he and the Blackhawks aren’t guaranteed success, but he remains optimistic with how everything has played out so far in his tenure as general manager that his plan will come together.

“For me, starting this vision out a couple years, it was always through the draft,” Davidson said. “It was always the foundation was going to be built through the draft, it wasn’t going to be built through trade or free agency, and to have eight first-round picks the last three drafts and for them to go as well as they have — I referenced it after the first round is that we’ve had these players that we’ve wanted and targeted going into the draft, and you can’t get all of them just based on, you can only have a certain number of picks and you like a lot of players and you can’t have five first-round picks every year so you can’t get everyone, but everyone on our short list that we really wanted to get early in drafts, we’ve gotten players from those groups. We’ve never had to settle or take someone that we weren’t extremely enthused about or overly excited about. Everyone we’ve gotten, especially early and even into the earlier rounds past the first round, they’ve been players that we’ve targeted, we’ve wanted to make Blackhawks and we were able to do it.

“Time will tell if that vision and that excitement and that evaluation going into the draft will bear fruit but as we stand after those drafts and now seeing the development of some of those earlier draft picks, I think the group is extremely excited about where this is headed and where we believe these players are headed to eventually create something really special here in Chicago.”

(Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top