The Chicago Blackhawks are living proof that there is upside to long-term ineptitude and utter failure that doesn’t exist with sporadic garden variety mediocrity.
One look at the roster Chicago will dress against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place Tuesday tells you that much. Is there another team in the NHL with more young talent — players 25-and-under — than the Blackhawks? I think not, although that’s just off the top of my head.
Out of the playoffs, often hopelessly so, for nine of the previous 10 seasons, Chicago has rebuilt through the Entry Draft from 2002-07 better than any other team I can think of.
In six drafts, the Blackhawks have added no less than seven players who are on the roster and contributing to a resurgence in the Windy City.
While the Oilers made the playoffs in six of the previous 10 seasons, and just missed in three of the other four years, the Blackhawks were dismal enough that they amassed three, top-five picks from 2002-07.
The Oilers, meanwhile, had none — Edmonton’s highest pick in that stretch came in 2007, when they plucked Sam Gagner sixth overall.
After years as an embarrassment to Original Six franchises and of playing in a half-empty United Center, the Blackhawks have drafted high and drafted well. Here’s a look at the youngsters who’ll be in Chicago silks Tuesday.
2007: PATRICK KANE. Taken first overall, Kane, 20, leads the Blackhawks in scoring with 13-21-34. He tallied 21-51-72 as a rookie. The Oilers selected Gagner, a teammate of Kane’s in London, sixth, Alex Plante 15th and Riley Nash 21st with a trifecta of first-round picks.
2006: JONATHAN TOEWS. Selected third overall, Toews, 20, scored 24-30-54 as a rookie. He has 8-15-23 this season. The Oilers didn’t have a first-round pick, although they have blueliners Jeff Petry (45th) and Theo Peckham (75th) in the system.
2005: JACK SKILLE: This promising forward from the U.S. National Under-18 team is the only Chicago first-rounder from 2002-07 yet to make a real impact. He’s got six NHL games on his resume and is in Rockford of the AHL. A big edge to the Oilers so far, with Andrew Cogliano in The Show and Taylor Chorney on the way.
2004: CAM BARKER and DAVE BOLLAND. Chicago took Barker, a 22-year-old defenceman from Medicine Hat, with the third overall pick. He’s already played parts of four seasons. Bolland, 22, was taken 32nd overall. He’s scored 5-12-17 in 28 games this season. The Oilers just sent Rob Schremp (25th) back to Springfield and fellow first-rounder Devan Dubnyk (14th) is in the system. Liam Reddox (112th) is on the roster.
2003: BRENT SEABROOK AND DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN. The 23-year-old Seabrook, selected 14th from Lethbridge of the WHL, already has 240 games on his NHL resume and is in his fourth season. Seabrook was a no-brainer at the draft.
Byfuglien, 23, meanwhile, is the longest of shots and is paying off. Selected 245th overall, the massive swingman scored 19 goals last season and has 126 NHL games in the books. The Oilers took Marc Pouliot 22nd overall and got Zack Stortini 94th.
2002: DUNCAN KEITH. After taking Anton Babchuk 21st, Keith was a steal at 54th overall. Keith has scored 2-12-14 so far in his fourth NHL campaign after back-to-back seasons of 31 and 32 points. The Blackhawks also got James Wisniewski with the 156th pick.
Jesse Niinimaki was Edmonton’s biggest first-round bust in recent years, but they also got Jeff Deslauriers along with Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, who they’ve turned into Lubomir Visnovsky via trade.