Gravel, a sixth-round pick (162nd overall) of the Blackhawks in 2018, has spent the last four seasons as the starting goaltender for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.
The future in net for the Chicago Blackhawks has been a mystery for the last handful of years. GM Stan Bowman didn’t get any closer to solving that mystery when he traded away Robin Lehner to Vegas at this year’s trade deadline. Corey Crawford certainly isn’t getting any younger, but he continues to prove that he can be a starting goaltender in the NHL. Still, Crawford remains without a contract after the 2019-20 season, and the future of the Blackhawks goaltender position is up in the air.
Bowman further added to the mystery on Thursday afternoon, as The Athletic’s Scott Powers reported that the Blackhawks do not intend to sign goaltending prospect Alexis Gravel to an entry-level contract. This comes less than two years after Bowman drafted Gravel in the sixth round.
Coming into the 2019-20 season, Gravel was one of the more intriguing prospects in the Blackhawks pipeline, and for good reason. The Berlin, Germany native shined for the Halifax Mooseheads in 2018-19, as he led the team to the QMJHL President’s Cup Final with a 2.73 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 23 postseason games. Gravel also carried the Mooseheads to the CHL Memorial Cup Final, where he was named the Memorial Cup tournament’s Most Outstanding Goaltender.
But Gravel had a rough go in 2019-20, as he suffered an unfortunate injury early on in the year by stepping on a piece of glass. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound netminder went on to start just 40 games in goal (second-lowest of his QMJHL career) and never looked like the same goaltender from the year before. Gravel posted a career-low 3.96 goals-against average on the way to a dismal 12-23-3 record. It was a down year for the 20-year-old Gravel, but there was still some promise for his future in the Blackhawks organization.
Apparently Bowman didn’t feel the same way, as he will let Gravel’s draft rights expire on June 1. Bowman continues to struggle with drafting goaltenders, as out of the nine he has drafted during his tenure as Blackhawks GM, only Kent Simpson, a 2010 second-round pick, has played in the NHL. Not exactly ideal.
After the loss of Gravel, the Blackhawks are left with Crawford and Malcolm Subban at the NHL level, and Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Matt Tomkins at the AHL level. Crawford and Subban both have expiring contracts at the end of this season though, so it’s essentially anyone’s net at this point.
The Hawks also still hold the rights to 2014 sixth-rounder Ivan Nalimov, who signed a PTO with the Rockford IceHogs late in the season but never appeared in a game. 2019 sixth-round pick Dominic Basse is also in the system, who spent last season in the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms and is expected to join Colorado College as a freshman this fall.
It will be interesting to see what Bowman and the Blackhawks do in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft, as 17-year-old Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov is certainly a candidate to be their pick. Obviously, each team’s draft position is not locked in at the moment, and a lot can change in the coming months. One thing stands true though: the Blackhawks NEED to address the future of the goaltender position this summer.
For more Blackhawks news and updates, follow the author (@JackBushman2) on Twitter. Make sure to check out the author’s podcast, Talkin’ Hawkey, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Twitter (@TalkinHawkey).