"We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster...an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players."
In the Blackhawks public statement that came out on Tuesday, the excerpt above wasn’t earth shattering as far as news to those who follow the team closely yet was still noteworthy.
In interviews this past summer, Danny Wirtz and Stan Bowman have discussed this shift in organizational direction towards youth and innovation. A youth movement was inevitable and is now affirmed.
Upon viewing this public statement, though, many in the fanbase assumed the extreme of having an entire roster full of youngsters. Bowman himself admitted that wouldn’t be the case:
"Because of the way our sport is lined up with the salary cap...we are certainly going to go younger, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to have a team full of 22-year-old players. There will be veterans... and we need to support them... try to distribute the load."
Knowing that general premise for building the roster, what would be an optimal ratio of veterans to youngsters?
Does that ratio change in each subsequent year?
What is a possible roll out plan to graduate prospects from the Hogs to the Hawks?
Before we look at ratios and a potential graduation schedule over a span of upcoming seasons, let’s consider a common dichotomy for prospects making the jump to the NHL.
On one end is the “sink or swim” mentality while the opposite end is proper marination in primarily the minor leagues but also in other ranks like the NCAA, Canadian juniors, or Europe.
There is also the argument that prospects need to over marinate in order to fully maximize development so they truly have nothing left to learn.
When prospects are plopped into a NHL lineup to sink or swim, they are expected to have growing pains but also expected to play through them and grow from that experience.
Some prospects will come out stronger through that trial by fire while others either have stunted growth or simply fail.
For many prospects, however, they are better in the long run the more they spend time developing the right way at the right pace and in the right environment.
In the case of the Blackhawks youth movement, there is no indication that they are leaning towards the “sink or swim” method and that is a good thing.
The last thing a franchise wants to do during a youth movement is ruin the growth of their prospects by having them log NHL minutes when they’re just not ready.
Slow and steady wins the race and that could be the mantra moving forward with the youth formula that the Hawks organization is instituting.
In terms of the optimal ratio of veteran players to young players, it depends on what defines a veteran.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook as the core are defaulted as the veterans and for good reason. Just look at the dozen Cup rings between them.
Does age dictate who a veteran is? The 30-year-olds on the roster are the core and Zack Smith but Ryan Carpenter, Andrew Shaw, and Calvin de Haan are 29 so we could easily round them up to the next age bracket.
Then there are those in their mid-to-late 20s. Some could be considered veterans while others have one full season of experience or less.
David Kampf (25), Lucas Wallmark (25), Nikita Zadorov (25), Mattias Janmark (27), and Connor Murphy (27) have many NHL seasons under their belt.
In contrast, Matthew Highmore (24), Dominik Kubalik (25), Malcolm Subban (26), and Collin Delia (26) have just scratched the surface.
Kevin Lankinen (25) has been recalled twice but has zero NHL games on his resume.
In the final grouping are the players in their teens and early 20: Kirby Dach (19), Adam Boqvist (20), Alex DeBrincat (22), Alex Nylander (22), and Dylan Strome (23).
That youth group is deceiving in that DeBrincat already has turned in three seasons while Strome and Nylander have played several years that equate to two and one full seasons, respectively.
Kubalik, Dach, and Boqvist were the only true rookies last year who played a substantial slate of games.
It is critical to keep in mind that with each passing year, players who were once the newbies get older and become more experienced. As a result, they in turn enter the echelon of veteran status even if they are still 20 somethings.
DeBrincat is a good example of this and in time so will Kubalik, Strome, Nylander, Dach, and Boqvist. Kampf and Murphy fit this category as well. So do newcomers Janmark, Wallmark, and Zadorov.
So this brings us to sequencing the youth movement in a measured fashion. A little at a time is ideal since one factor to consider is optimized development time in the minors.
Another factor is whether there are any spots available to fill. This is where having players like Janmark, Wallmark, and Zadorov on one-year deals may be beneficial so they aren’t blocking paths to the NHL for ready prospects.
One last factor to keep in mind is the fact that the prospect pipeline evolves each year with future draft picks, trades that bring in new prospects, and signings of free agent collegians and undrafted junior players.
This constant changing can alter development timelines as far as depth charts. Wyatt Kalynuk illustrates this point as he essentially went from the Flyers system to the Blackhawks system and in the process leapfrogged a few D prospects who were originally drafted by Chicago.
The following are season by season examples of a suggested plan to phase in new players based on projected development timelines for NHL readiness.
As a caveat, these projections don’t factor in whether there will be spots open but are merely predicting when they could be ready to play in the NHL.
Another caveat is that some prospects may not develop well enough to be worth a call-up and/or be traded before they fully marinate in Chicago's system.
Forwards: Pius Suter
Defensemen: Lucas Carlsson, Ian Mitchell
Goalies: Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia
Forwards: Matej Chalupa, MacKenzie Entwistle, Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev
Defensemen: Nicolas Beaudin, Wyatt Kalynuk, Chad Krys
Goalies: Kevin Lankinen
Forwards: Andrei Altybarmakyan, Evan Barratt, Mikael Hakkarainen, Reese Johnson, Lukas Reichel, Tim Soderlund
Defensemen: Alec Regula
Goalies: Matt Tomkins
Forwards: Cam Morrison, Artur Kayumov, Michal Teply
Defensemen: Jakub Galvas
Goalies: Cale Morris
Forwards: Antti Saarela, Josiah Slavin, Jake Wise
Defensemen: Slava Demin, Alex Vlasic
Goalies: Drew Commesso
See you on the boards!