In terms of amateur recruiting, the Chicago Blackhawks went from an unenviable situation to a favorable position on the draft floor in Montreal, to the chagrin of fans who mourned the departures of Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach, both traded on Thursday.
An old proverb says you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. And the top management of the “Hawks” will have to walk on the shells it broke for several years after trading a 24-year-old double 41-goal scorer and a promising center player.
These unpopular trades still allowed the Blackhawks to get three first-round picks, after having had none the morning of the session. Like the frenzied spectators in the stands of the Bell Center on kick-off night, the national recruiting manager for Quebec and Ontario, Alex Rouleau, experienced his share of roller coaster in 48 hours.
“It’s one of my best repechages in life,” he said immediately during an interview with TVASports.ca.
His soon-to-be 12-year-old son, Samuel, was by his side on stage to welcome offensive defenseman Kevin Korchinski with the seventh overall selection – sold by the Ottawa Senators in return for their new star DeBrincat – as well as forward Frank Nazar, then full-back Sam Rinzel at 25th echelon.
Photo credit: Blackhawks national amateur scout Alex Rouleau and his son Samuel.
No smoke without fire
A few hours earlier, Rouleau and the team of recruiters had received a word of order from management at the hotel.
“We were told to prepare, that the transactions could happen and that we could have additional choices, he says. We had prepared for all the possibilities. We had a good idea that big names could leave Chicago. It was no longer a secret by the end.
“Then it started coming out on social media. There’s no smoke without fire.”
Rouleau, a former Val-d’Or Foreurs defenseman drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2001, was active in recruiting DeBrincat and also Dach when the organization drafted them in 2016 and 2019, respectively.
This is one of the ungrateful realities of the profession of scouting young talents.
“I lived (the transactions) in a somewhat divided way, because I nevertheless participated in the recruitment of DeBrincat, then of Dach. When you see players you signed getting traded, you’re always in shock.
“But we have been given new picks, so these are new chances. In Alex’s case, he’s a former second-round pick who has earned us a lot. It means we did a good job with him. It’s the GM’s job afterwards. From there, we board the boat.”
So, with the second selection secured from the Senators, the team snapped up center Paul Ludwinski, a Kingston Frontenacs teammate of Shane Wright, early in the second round, whom he describes as a “spark plug extremely versatile.
“When I went to see Kingston this year, you couldn’t help noticing it, insists Rouleau. He moves his feet well and he’s always in the heat of the moment. Some nights, when Wright’s line was quieter, they could transfer him to the wing on one of their first lines.
Samuel Savoie: a long-time love
In the next round, the Blackhawks imitated the Anaheim Ducks by drawing from the Gatineau Olympiques.
After Noah Warren (42nd) and Tristan Luneau (53rd), New Brunswick forward Samuel Savoie has become Louis Robitaille’s third protege to receive an NHL jersey. Like his teammates, the Acadian left winger was among the four players the Olympiques drafted at the 2020 QMJHL auction.
Blackhawks recruiting director Mike Doneghey described him as a “ball of energy” during his review of the vintage on Friday afternoon. Savoie himself compares his style of play to those of Brad Marchand and Sam Bennett, which can’t hurt him in a team interview to earn points.
Photo credit: Joël Lemay / QMI Agency
Rouleau says he has been spying on him for a long time, since the Outaouais region – Ottawa included – is on his way when he begins or concludes his travels. He illustrates his point by proclaiming himself “about the only recruiter in the world who lives in Abitibi”.
“What you hear is what we like,” he notes. Every time we see him play, he has the energy on the floor. He is very active and he is not afraid to go to the net. He has to fun and he wants to make a difference. These are qualities that attract us.
“Doneghey made the trip to see him play in Gatineau, as the city is conveniently located during scout trips to observe. Our superiors had come to see him play, even the great boss at a certain time. Brian Campbell (the special operations adviser) was there, he is very close to management.”
There’s plenty to win over fans in the comparison game, but scouts prefer to play it safe when asked to compare a prospect to an NHL skater.
“That is the hardest question to answer. It’s hard to compare, but if you look at players drafted this year, he has a lot of similarities with Frontenacs players, he says, referring to Ludwinski.
“The speed of the feet and its overall quickness. He is like a Swiss army knife. He can play many roles while bringing a spark. It will be the fun to work with him, because he can give options no matter who his coach is.
The Davidson era plan
As is the case in Anaheim, the winds of change are blowing in the “Windy City” and new GM Kyle Davidson has placed an order with his scouts.
It’s no coincidence that they drafted 11 prospects, including eight forwards, in the seven rounds.
“A course of action is pretty clear looking at our picks as a whole. The common feature is speed, he explains. Nazar is extremely fast. Ludwinski and Savoie skate with a high level of speed.
“The common trait is easy to see. The new management wanted to focus on speed this year.”
Some experts wondered if this drifting concession should not have waited until the 2023 vintage to gain hope in a higher auction. You have to understand that reconstruction is starting now.
“For all the vintages, we’ve been looking for players for a year, watching them work, loving them and wanting to work with them if it’s a good fit.
“Why wait another year, when we are in important years? Our CEO, his vision is to say “we erase and we start again”. This is what he did to start again as soon as possible.
Photo credit: AFP
As for Korchinski, the Blackhawks’ first choice, no decision has been made at this time. He will report to development camp on Monday.
“The plan is not to rush him. If the organization feels he is not ready, he will continue to learn. We’ll give him time.”