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Go Big or Go Home?

September 21, 2020, 10:44 AM ET [187 Comments]
Theo Fox
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
In order for the Blackhawks to be a more competitive team, they need to improve their ability to fight for pucks, win board battles, and keep up with opponents who predicate their forecheck and backcheck on playing the body.

Would it help if the Hawks had bigger players? Would it help if they had players who like to hit everything in sight? Would it help if the team had players who were big and who hit?

If not, then what’s the alternative? What’s an ideal draft strategy to field a contender again?

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First, we need to define the metric for what it means for a player to be “big” or have “size” or other similar terms. For sake of this article, the metric is any player who was listed in their draft year as either 6’1” or taller and/or weighs more than 190 pounds. There are two caveats, however.

The first caveat is that this metric is admittedly arbitrary and debatable. The height requirement could be an inch or two taller or start lower at an even 6’0”. And the weight could be plus or minus 5-10 pounds as the threshold.

Another caveat is that any player is more likely than not to hit a growth spurt and get taller and add weight after being drafted. Growing taller is natural while packing on weight can be a combination of physical maturation, diet, nutrition, and weight training.

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Starting with the 2008 draft -- which is the year after Patrick Kane was selected 1st overall in 2007 -- here is a look at the recent draft history with “big” players and “small” players listed for each year applying the metric described above.

2008

* Big: Kyle Beach, Shawn Lalonde, Teigan Zahn, Jonathan Carlsson, Ben Smith, Braden Birch
* Small: Joe Gleason
* Note: Smith was 5’11” but built like a fire hydrant weighing 205 pounds in his draft year.

2009

* Big: Dylan Olsen, Dan Delisle, David Pacan, Paul Phillips, David Gilbert
* Small: Brandon Pirri, Byron Froese, Marcus Kruger
* Note: Given how fearless and relentless he was as a shutdown center, Kruger was the crown gem of that draft class and epitomized what it means to play big as a tiny player.

2010

* Big: Kevin Hayes, Ludvig Rensfeldt, Justin Holl, Kent Simpson, Stephen Johns, Joakim Nordstrom, Rob Flick, Nick Mattson, Mac Carruth
* Small: Mirko Hoefflin
* Note: Nordstrom was tall but skinny as a rail; yet, he has been rather effective as a 4th liner grinder for a few NHL teams.

2011

* Big: Mark McNeill, Brandon Saad, Michael Paliotta, Klas Dahlbeck, Maxim Shalunov, Sam Jardine, Johan Mattsson
* Small: Phillip Danault, Adam Clendening, Andrew Shaw, Alex Broadhurst
* Note: Although this draft class is considered one of the best in recent Blackhawks history unearthing Saad, Danault, and Shaw, McNeill as the 1st pick was touted as having an “NHL-ready body” but has played in just one NHL game.

2012

* Big: Dillon Fournier, Chris Calnan, Travis Brown, Brandon Whitney, Matt Tomkins
* Small: Teuvo Teravainen, Garret Ross, Vincent Hinostroza
* Note: Despite having a reputation of being a perimeter player with alligator arms while in Chicago, Teravainen has put in the time in the weight room adding mass to his frame to become a stronger player en route to being an impact 1st liner now in Carolina.

2013

* Big: Carl Dahlstrom, John Hayden, Robin Press
* Small: Ryan Hartman, Robin Norell, Tyler Motte, Luke Johnson, Antony Louis
* Note: Motte (5’10” 192 pounds) and Hayden (6’3” 215 pounds) are a tale of two players as the one who gets the most out of his talents to play like a wrecking ball is the one who is almost a half foot shorter.

2014

* Big: Matheson Iacopelli, Beau Starrett, Fredrik Olofsson, Andreas Soderberg, Ivan Nalimov, Jack Ramsey
* Small: Nick Schmaltz, Luc Snuggerud, Dylan Sikura
* Note: Out of this draft class, the two who have played in the NHL -- Schmaltz and Sikura -- are the ones who have reputations as small perimeter players yet possess excellent IQ, vision, and playmaking ability.

2015

* Big: Graham Knott, Dennis Gilbert, Radovan Bondra, Roy Radke, Joni Tuulola
* Small: Ryan Shea, John Dahlstrom
* Note: As the only player left in the system in this draft class, Gilbert has been criticized for throwing his huge frame around too much at the detriment of proper defensive coverage.

2016

* Big: Wouter Peeters, Mathias From, Blake Hillman
* Small: Alex DeBrincat, Chad Krys, Artur Kayumov, Lucas Carlsson, Nathan Noel, Jake Ryczek
* Note: Although Carlsson is on the cusp of making the Hawks with Krys a year behind from a cup of coffee, DeBrincat is far and away the best player in this draft class at a whopping 5’7” 165 pounds.

2017

* Big: Roope Laavainen
* Small: Henri Jokiharju, Ian Mitchell, Andrei Altybarmakyan, Evan Barratt, Tim Soderlund, Parker Foo, Jakub Galvas, Joshua Ess
* Note: The biggest “small” player is Jokiharju tipping the scales at 188 pounds and standing at 5’11”.

2018

* Big: Mikael Hakkarainen, Alexis Gravel, Josiah Slavin
* Small: Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, Jake Wise, Niklas Nordgren, Philipp Kurashev
* Note: Of the Big 3 in this draft class, Hakkarainen already has injury issues, Gravel wasn’t signed to an ELC, and Slavin had low fanfare in his rookie season at Colorado College; in contrast, 3 of the 5 “small” players -- Boqvist, Beaudin, and Kurashev -- are already in the pros.

2019

* Big: Kirby Dach, Alex Vlasic, Michal Teply, Antti Saarela, Dominic Basse, Cole Moberg
* Small: Antti Saarela
* Note: Saarela is the lone “small” player but may play the meanest game than all of his bigger peers in this draft class.

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Trends from 2008-2019:

* Of the exactly 100 players drafted in the past 12 years, 58 were “big” players while 42 were “small” players.
* Of the 58 “big” players, 10 (17.2%) made it to the NHL; moving Smith and Nordstrom over to the “small” group decreases this statistic down to 13.8%.
* Of the 42 “small” players, 17 (40.5%) made it to the NHL; adding in Smith and Nordstrom increases this statistic up to 45.2%.

A simple analysis of these trends show that there are triple the amount of “small” draftees who make it to the NHL than “big” draftees. Not only that, the “small” players who do make it play significant roles while only Saad and Hayes are the only “big” players to make substantial impacts.

The vast majority of “big” players drafted by Chicago either didn’t use their size effectively, played inconsistently, or had no defensive conscience. To put it another way, these prospects ranged from being complete busts to being unreliable one-trick ponies.

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The draft trends over the last dozen seasons illustrate that drafting for size may not be a shrewd strategy to employ. So if drafting for size isn’t the way to go, what is a better trait to consider when reviewing the draft board?

I for one would nominate compete level as the single factor to consider besides skill whether those talents are offensive, defensive, or both. But what does compete level entail?

Compete level can be composed of a variety of elements such as hustling, having no fear, contesting every puck, playing in all zones, supporting teammates, and not taking shifts off. This applies to both forwards and defensemen.

Even goalies can show compete level by protecting the net persistently in order to track pucks, reduce the number of rebounds, and regain composure after scrambling. Getting physical against the other team to show ownership of the net is a definite plus, too.

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In the end, the Blackhawks don’t need to draft for size. Instead, prioritize prospects who have a high compete level. If some of those draftees happen to be big players, even better.

But if it comes down to a big player with inconsistent or zero compete level versus a small player with an impeccable compete level, I would draft the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

At least for the 1st round -- and if not for as many subsequent picks as possible -- the strategy should always be to draft the best player available. When considering factors for the best player available, compete level should be placed at a high premium.

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NEWS & UPDATES

Over the weekend, Gary Bettman discussed how the start date of the 2020-21 season could be pushed from early December to late December or possibly January. He also mentioned still aiming for a full 82-game regular season and full playoffs while trying to avoid playing into the summer.

Not sure how that will work other than having a compact schedule with 4 games per week -- or even 5 games in some weeks.

Other news from the commissioner:

* A delayed start could impact the 2021 Winter Classic between the Wild and Blues at Target Field in Minneapolis on New Year’s Day.
* As for fans in the arenas, Bettman stated that the league would likely start with no fans but gradually add them in over the course of the season.
* The playoffs would revert back to 16 teams with best-of-7 series.
* There will be no delay in the Seattle Kraken having its inaugural season in 2021-22.

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See you on the boards!

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