NHL Draft

Why the Blackhawks will likely draft a goaltender in 2023

The Blackhawks haven't drafted a goaltender since 2020

Canada v Slovakia: Quarterfinals - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship

HALIFAX, CANADA – JANUARY 02: Goaltender Adam Gajan #30 of Team Slovakia makes a pad save against Team Canada during overtime in the quarterfinals of the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship at Scotiabank Centre on January 2, 2023 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Team Canada defeated Team Slovakia 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The Blackhawks are sitting pretty going into the 2023 NHL Draft. They have the No. 1 overall pick — just 23 more days until Connor Bedard is officially a Blackhawk — and 10 other selections for a total of 11, which is tied for the fourth-most among any team.

The Blackhawks aren't expected to make all 11 picks. They have eight in the first three rounds and will probably look to package some of them to move up, if possible.

But one thing I do expect the Blackhawks to do with one of their picks is draft a goaltender, which they haven't done since 2020 when Drew Commesso was selected in the second round (No. 46 overall).

This isn't necessarily about the Blackhawks feeling like they need a goaltender or not liking the ones they currently have in the system. They're optimistic about Arvid Soderblom's potential as a No. 1 starter and Commesso's long-term upside as he prepares to start his pro career. (Heck, even 6-foot-6, 186-pound netminder Dominic Basse, who was drafted by Chicago in the sixth round in 2019, is an intriguing option if he can build upon his breakout junior season in college, although he remains unsigned).

It's more about the importance of the position and how long it takes goaltenders to develop, relative to other positions. Blackhawks fans know first-hand about the latter; Corey Crawford was drafted in the second round in 2003 and didn't break into the NHL full-time until 2010-11. The former, however, might be the biggest reason to get another goaltender in the system. 

You need two goalies in today's NHL, more than ever before. Just look at the Vegas Golden Knights, who are three wins away from locking up their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

The Golden Knights used five different goaltenders this season, and that's not including the fact Robin Lehner — who's their traditional starter and has a Top 20 save percentage in NHL history — missed the entire campaign with a hip injury. Logan Thompson, their Opening Night starter, also hasn't seen game action since March because of an injury. It's mostly been the Adin Hill show in the playoffs for Vegas, and he had zero postseason experience entering this season.

Here's another thing to chew on. Only four goaltenders started more than 60 games this season: Connor Hellebuyck (64), Juuse Saros (63), Alexandar Georgiev (62) and Jake Oettinger (61). For reference, the last time the Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup (2015), there were 11 goaltenders that started more than 60 games, two of which logged more than 70: Braden Holtby (72) and Jonathan Quick (71).

There are very few goaltenders these days who can handle a heavy workload in the regular season and not be burned out for the playoffs. There also aren't as many slam-dunk future No. 1 goaltenders anymore coming out of the draft.

Because the NHL has trended into a two-goalie league, the Blackhawks have to make sure they're continuing to add goaltenders to the pipeline and lay the groundwork well in advance. Even if Commesso or Soderblom turns out to be a No. 1 down the road, there's value in drafting and developing a goaltender because some other team might need one and the Blackhawks can take advantage by using potential extras as a trade chip.

The 2023 goaltending draft class isn't considered to be a great one when it comes to the upper tier; there isn't expected to be a goalie taken in the first round. But it could be a sneaky good one as far as depth goes — towards the mid-to-later rounds — and that's where the Blackhawks could swoop in.

It should be noted that the Blackhawks are typically very aggressive in signing goaltending prospects from overseas. They did so with Kevin Lankinen, Soderblom and, most notably, Antti Niemi, who backstopped Chicago to its first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010. So it's not like they're ignoring the position. Far from it, actually.

With Soderblom likely graduating to the NHL next season and Commesso making the jump from college to pro, it's the right time for the Blackhawks to get another goaltender added to the farm system, and the easiest way to do that is through the draft.

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