Speed is one of the primary traits that Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson is prioritizing for the rebuild and the projected era of superiority afterwards. Davidson wasted no time as was poignantly evident in the 2022 draft class.
Not only do many of these newly added prospects have wheels of lightning but also superb skating ability which often means agility, edge work, and mechanics. These attributes demonstrate how quickness is just part of the equation.
What can really put a player over the top is the ability to process or think the game swiftly which requires at least intelligence of knowing the game and understanding its nuances in order to leverage them advantageously.
Another element that can be a boost is hockey sense which is differentiated from hockey intelligence or IQ. Hockey sense is the innate capacity to mentally slow the game down, see plays that others don’t, and execute masterfully.
Remember former Hawks prospect Alexandre Fortin? He had speed to burn but was the type who got from Point A to Point B but both ran out of runway to make a productive play but also wouldn’t know what to do once he got there.
To put it another way, speed by itself can sometimes lead to nowhere fast. Fortin was guilty of having frenetic energy to get up ice like a bat out of hell and dance around the zone but have all that effort ultimately lead to nothing.
To his credit, Fortin evolved from a speedy scorer to a speedy shift disturber. He used his afterburners to disrupt the opponent’s flow as he forechecked and backchecked with gusto. If he forced turnovers, he pounced on them.
Although Fortin is out of the organization now, he provides a case study in utilizing speed as a multifaceted tool to create in many different ways rather than a tool with only one function, i.e. skate fast to the net and score.
The Hawks signed a free agent a few weeks ago with a similar pedigree as Fortin in 27-year old Andreas Athanasiou. Below average hockey IQ and hockey sense have made Athanasiou in between Fortin versions 1.0 and 2.0.
In other words, there are times when Athanasiou can leave opponents in the dust with game-breaking speed to generate mad rushes up ice for scoring chances or team up with a linemate for a well-timed give and go.
Then there are times when he doesn’t focus on his speed being solely for his own personal gain. He instead employs it as a disruptive force that knocks the opposition off their game which in turn tilts momentum towards his team.
Lots of Runway
Not everyone can be a Guy Lafleur, Mike Gartner, Pavel Bure, Connor McDavid, or Nathan MacKinnon by making optimal decisions then converting plays using a high amount of skill while traversing at Mach 3 for the entire shift.
It’s also not just about the puck carrier leveraging speed to generate scoring chances. The puck carrier can also use skating prowess to open up more runway for teammates so they can collectively manufacture scoring.
Forwards and defensemen alike can help each other create as much runway as needed to operate whether for clean break outs, stretch passes, give and gos, extended cycling, high-to-low sequences, and backdoor plays.
Roster & Pipeline
The 2022-23 roster doesn’t boast any other players besides Athanasiou, Sam Lafferty, and Colin Blackwell who combine speed and skating ability in a manner that can cause disruptions with the other team’s flow.
What about down on the farm? Lukas Reichel is more of a shifty skater with extra gears to gain separation from defenders. Also, all D prospects are very good skaters but none have the jets to leave opponents in their wake.
Coming full circle with the start of this blog, this is where the aforementioned 2022 draft class may signal the starting point for a lethal injection of disruptive speed, versatile skating, and competitive fire.
Frank Nazar, Paul Ludwinski, Ryan Greene, Gavin Hayes, Samuel Savoie, Aidan Thompson, Dominic James, and Nils Juntorp exemplify that package Davidson dictated in Chicago’s draft profile for prospects to consider selecting.
Nazar withstanding, the best skaters from the 2022 draft class are his fellow 1st rounders in rearguards Kevin Korchinski and Sam Rinzel. Both D-men love to activate by depending on their smooth edge work and fluid mechanics.
Whether or not Korchinski and Rinzel can parlay their sublime skating and quickness into becoming top 4 defenders for the Hawks remains to be seen but the building blocks are there to at least dominate offensively.
This past draft year is just the beginning of filling the pipeline with supreme skaters who are also agile, elusive, and assertive. The pipeline will continue to grow with more such youngsters in the drafts of 2023 and beyond.
Derek Plante is returning to the Blackhawks as an assistant coach after serving as associate head coach for his alma mater University of Minnesota-Duluth for two seasons. He was formerly a player development coach for the Hawks from 2015-2020.
Before joining the Hawks in 2015, Plante was a UMD assistant coach from 2010-2015. In his second stint with the Bulldogs, he coached Hawks prospects Wyatt Kaiser, Connor Kelley, and James. Kelley is now at Providence College.
The staff of Hawks head coach Luke Richardson is now composed of assistants Plante, Derek King, and Kevin Dean plus goaltending coach Jimmy Waite and video coach Matt Meacham. It wouldn't be surprising if Chris Kunitz got some time behind the bench, too.
See you on the boards!
Sources: Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, NBC Sports Chicago, The Athletic Chicago