The Blackhawks received a gift when it was announced they’d be included in the NHL’s 24-team playoff format under the Return To Play plan.
They’re set to play the Oilers in a best-of-5 play-in series after being 12th in the Western Conference and six points out of a playoff spot with four teams to jump and 12 games remaining at the time of the NHL pause on March 11.
They received more good fortune on Friday during Phase 1 of the NHL’s Draft Lottery when it was announced the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 NHL Draft will go to one of the eight teams that loses in the qualifying round of this year’s potential playoffs during Phase 2 of the Draft Lottery. Meaning, if the Hawks lose their series with the Oilers, they have a 12.5 percent chance of walking away with the top pick.
If the season or the playoffs don’t conclude, the Hawks would have a 12.5 percent chance at the top pick as one of the bottom four teams in the Western Conference.
Phase 2 is slated to be conducted at some point between the qualifying round and the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The No. 1 pick of this year’s draft is expected to be forward Alexis Lafrenière, who registered 35 goals and 77 assists for a league-leading 112 points in 52 games this season with the Rimouski Océanic of the QMJHL, where he also served as the team captain.
Listed at 6’1, 192 lbs., Lafrenière will not only bring offense wherever he goes, but a little bit of size.
According to The Athletic’s Corey Pronman, the left winger “attacks the net, has some physicality in his game and gets a lot of goals in the dirty areas.”
Pronman also believes the already highly-coveted forward, who shoots left, makes up for his “average” speed with skill, smarts and vision.
Let’s say the Hawks lose to the Oilers, luck out again and land the 18-year-old Saint-Eustache, Quebec native. We saw the Blackhawks strike gold in last year’s draft when they had an 8.2 percent chance of getting a Top 3 pick and moved up nine spots to select center Kirby Dach third overall.
So, for fun’s sake, let’s fast forward and envision the Hawks ending up with the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 draft. (Obviously, it would also be fun to see a great series with the Oilers and Chicago advance, but seriously, what if they get the No. 1 pick??)
When it comes to his road to the NHL, Lafrenière should be instantly ready for the show. It’s incredibly doubtful the Blackhawks would pass on his skill and ability to score from tough areas if they possessed the top pick. Those assets would give the Hawks several options next season.
Even with an impressive training camp, it may be safe to assume Chicago head coach Jeremy Colliton would ease Lafrenière in on the team’s third line, the way he did with Dach for a majority of this season.
As with a lot of forward personnel on the Blackhawks, who’s around the potential No. 1 pick in the lineup could be dictated by where Patrick Kane is penciled in.
If we see a nuclear line with Saad-Toews-Kane and Andrew Shaw is healthy from his latest concussion, the forward groups could look like this:
Note: Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik and Drake Caggiula all become restricted free agents after this season. It’s doubtful the Hawks let Kubalik, who scored 30 goals as a rookie, walk away. Caggiula’s grit and the goals that come with it should be somewhat affordable.
Strome’s future is a bit more uncertain with his sophomore season in Chicago lagging a bit compared to his first one, partially due to injuries. If the team does part ways with Strome after this year, Dach may be trusted to be the new No. 2 center in his second NHL season.
If Kane is placed on Chicago’s second line, Kubalik will probably go up top, where he saw a lot of success next to the Blackhawks’ captain as a rookie:
Like we saw at times with Dach earlier this season, it’s possible Colliton could also either give Lafrenière a look among the team’s top six forwards on the first or second line or reward him for playing well with some minutes there.
In the land of Make Believe, anything is possible.
Training camps for teams leading up to the NHL’s 24-team playoff format are still being targeted for July 10. The series against the Oilers could prove to be an entertaining one and with the layover plus Chicago’s mix of vets and young players, they’ve got a shot. So don’t schedule your draft parties yet.
We’ll see how things play out in a matter of time.