Future — that’s a word that you hear being associated with the Blackhawks lately, and with good reason. The current state of the Blackhawks is less than desirable, but that’s not to say that the future isn’t desirable and extremely promising. As the Blackhawks lose more and more games, and just about bottom out, they actually become winners for two reasons. Those two reasons are Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) January 21, 2019
Hughes and Kakko are currently being projected to go first and second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, in that order. These two prospects are widely viewed around hockey as being the next big things. Well, luck seems to be on the Blackhawks’ side, because they currently have the worst record in the NHL and are projected to get the number one overall pick.
— ✶ ✶Tony G✶ ✶ (@Certified_TonyG) January 20, 2019
As long as the Blackhawks continue at the same rate for the remainder of the 2018-19 NHL season, they will have first dibs on either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko — two players with the potential to be the next face of your franchise. I’m sure it won’t be an easy decision, but this is a problem that I’m sure any team would welcome with open arms.
Let’s start with the consensus number one overall pick, Jack Hughes. Hughes is a playmaking center with elite offensive talent. He is at his best when the puck is on his stick blade. Hughes always finds a way to exploit the weakness in any defensive coverage and he makes it look easy. It’s pretty fair to say he is always one step ahead.
Jack Hughes has drawn some pretty lofty NHL comparisons from many scouts and scouting agencies. One such comparison placed Hughes on the same level as Connor McDavid and we all know how good McDavid is. In regards to that comparison, The Draft Analyst had this to say about Hughes,
For starters, Hughes is an excellent playmaker with hawk-like vision who can perfectly time passes to linemates over long distances, especially off the rush. He uses a variety of head fakes, stutter steps and quick pivots to lure defenders away from a passing lane, and he can no-look pass better than any junior-aged player since Connor McDavid. But Hughes isn’t just a pass-first center, as he uses his blazing speed, agility and elite stickhandling to make inside moves towards the goal with regularity. Once he’s there, he’ll either wire a blistering wrister or use his ridiculously soft hands to roof shots from in close on either his forehand or backhand. These traits not only expand the ice for his teammates, but also seem to wear down defenders as they work feverishly towards trying to contain him.
Hughes’ elusiveness helps makes up for a lack of upper-body strength, and he’s more of a digger than a pusher during board battles. He also likes to handle the puck a lot and for as long as he can, thus leading to the occasional unforced error or 1-against-4 dangle attempt. Neither, however, should be considered weaknesses of any significance, and Hughes should be expected to enter the 2019 draft and the clear-cut favorite to be the first overall pick en route to sure stardom at the NHL level.
There’s one part of that scouting report that stood out in my mind, “He also likes to handle the puck a lot and for as long as he can…”. The reason why that specific part stood out to me is that it reminded me of a player I’m sure all Blackhawks fans are very familiar with, Patrick Kane. The speed, the playmaking, the hands, creativity, and instincts are all there to validate my comparison.
Here are some of Jack Hughes’ greatest hits and you will be able to witness just how good Hughes really is and see exactly where my Kane comparison comes from.
I would definitely be okay with struggling this season if it leads us to Jack Hughes. How about you? Tell the masses and spread the word, because it’s time to #LoseForHughes.
The consensus number two overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft is no slouch. Kaapo Kakko has all of the tools to be a force in the NHL for a long time. If the Blackhawks were unable to snag Jack Hughes, Kakko is a hell of a consolation prize. Kakko shares a lot of similarities with Hughes, but he also does that with a bigger frame as a winger. He is 6’1″ 181 lbs while Hughes is 5’10” 166 lbs.
Kaapo Kakko is able to create scoring opportunities seemingly at will and can beat the goalie from just about any spot on the ice, thanks to his deadly shooting accuracy. Kakko’s hands are in the same class as Hughes and he can also find his teammates with ease. The Draft Analyst broke down his game and had this to say about him,
Multi-tooled winger with size and coordination who incorporates his impressive puck skills with a desirable physical package that consistently exhausts opponents. Kakko was impressive last season as a 16-year-old depth player for TPS, and he should be expected to play a broader role with the big club during his ever-important draft season. Blessed with incredibly soft hands and tight-quarter quickness, Kakko is a reliable stickhandler who uses timing plays to either get open or create space for his linemates. It’s hard to call a bigger winger elusive, but Kakko’s shiftiness is both rapid and unpredictable — he constantly lures defenders into a compromising position before exploiting the smallest of windows into an unabated path to the goal. He also serves as a net-front presence on the power play.
Kakko is mature, poised and displays high intelligence with or without the puck. He constantly is in motion and uses his strength to win physical battles or get inside positioning on opponents. Kakko uses a variety of moves and fakes to get himself into shooting position, but he doesn’t not require optimal conditions to wire off a blistering, accurate shot that is labeled for the corner or far post. Although he may one day be classified as a power forward, Kakko is more competitive than he is physically intimidating, and his work in corners and in front of the net delivers positive results far more often than a broken play or unforced error. He owns a wide stride and his straight-line speed is above-average for a big winger. But he is agile, well balanced, nimble and he can beat defenders either inside or out. Kappo’s endurance is excellent during the first half of his shifts, but like most larger forwards, he can run out of gas in the middle of a play.
The parts of the scouting report that really caught my eye were, “…uses his strength to win physical battles or get inside positioning on opponents” and “He also serves as a net-front presence on the power play.” The Blackhawks don’t have many players that are willing to get physical and make plays in the dirty areas around the net.
Kappo’s skillset would be a welcome addition and you can see why he’d be a great match with the Blackhawks in this highlight reel.
The next best thing after Jack Hughes in the 2019 NHL Draft is Kaapo Kakko and I definitely wouldn’t mind winning the #CrappoForKakko sweepstakes.
The Future Is Bright for the Blackhawks
Besides having the opportunity to draft generational talent in Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the Blackhawks also have the chance to improve the team via free agency. StanBo has surprisingly gotten the Blackhawks to a very solid position heading into the 2019 offseason. By trading Nick Schmaltz, Brandon Manning, and Jan Rutta, StanBo & Co. are now sitting on a ton of cap space.
The stars have finally re-aligned for the Blackhawks. They currently have $4.49 mil in cap space and will have approximately $18.74 mil available this offseason. Besides getting a high draft pick this season, the Blackhawks will also have a chance to make a big splash during free agency. There will be some big fish on the open market in the upcoming class of free agents, including Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Mark Stone, Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Joe Pavelski, and Jeff Skinner to name a few.
Obviously, the Blackhawks’ top targets should be Panarin and Stone, but I would also like them to consider Matt Duchene. I really think Matt Duchene would mesh well with Patrick Kane on the 2nd line.
Say the Blackhawks are able to bring Panarin or Stone and one of Hughes or Kakko to Chicago next season, and then, add Boqvist, Mitchell, and Beaudin to the mix on defense. I believe that’s a foolproof recipe for success and the Blackhawks will be in line for a quicker turnaround than most people expect. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not StanBo has the testicular fortitude to pull this masterplan off.
For more Blackhawks news and updates, follow the author @Certified_TonyG on Twitter.