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Blackhawks’ prospect pool looks stronger after NHL Draft’s 1st round, but so do Central Division rivals

While Lukas Reichel does improve the Blackhawks’ pipeline significantly, the same can be said for Marco Rossi with Minnesota, Cole Perfetti with Winnipeg and Yaroslav Askarov with Nashville.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman (left) and One West Side grant recipient Jamyle Cannon announce the Lukas Reichel selection Tuesday at Fifth Third Arena.
Chicago Blackhawks

Forward Lukas Reichel, whom the Blackhawks selected with the 17th pick in Tuesday’s NHL Draft, will immediately become one of the top prospects in their pipeline.

But so will Marco Rossi with the Wild. So will Cole Perfetti with the Jets. So will Yaroslav Askarov with the Predators.

It’s easy to be overcome with optimism after the draft each year, and with good reason; regardless of Stan Bowman’s shortcomings, the Hawks have drafted well in his tenure as general manager. And the Reichel pick, by all accounts, has a good chance of continuing that successful track record.

But only through careful grooming and development of Reichel will the Hawks eventually come out ahead of their competition.

Thanks to their thrilling series victory over the Oilers in the qualifying round of the playoffs, the Hawks ended up with a lower pick than three of their Central Division rivals despite finishing last in the regular-season standings. The Wild, Jets and Predators owned picks No. 9, No. 10 and No. 11, and all three managed to land big steals.

Rossi, the Wild’s new stud center, shredded Canadian juniors last season by scoring 120 points in 56 games. His incredible stick-handling skills should be a problem for opponents in the years to come.

Perfetti was projected by many experts to go fourth overall to the Red Wings before he fell to the Jets. Like Rossi, he’s an undersized but dynamic offensive player, and he’ll fit right in with the Jets’ attacking style.

Askarov, the Predators’ next star goaltender in a lineage started by Pekka Rinne, is the most anticipated prospect at his position in years. He might have gone 11th, but his hype might exceed that of everyone but winger Alexis Lafreniere, who predictably went first to the Rangers.

So, yes, Reichel has fantastic vision and an impressive hockey IQ. Yes, Reichel’s strong two-way play and defensive awareness set him apart from many of the other forwards in the middle of the first round. Yes, if all goes to plan, he should be a solid part of the Hawks’ future top six.

But virtually every team around the league is saying those same things about the prospects they added to their pipelines Tuesday.

The Hawks do at least benefit from the fact that none of the top five picks is in their division. The Kings drafted center Quinton Byfield at No. 2. The Senators took center Tim Stuetzle at No. 3 and defenseman Jake Sanderson at No. 5. The Red Wings picked winger Lucas Raymond at No. 4.

The Hawks will need to build smartly around their future core of top-20 picks — Kirby Dach and Reichel up front, Adam Boqvist in the back — in order for these high-value selections to actually elevate them above the competition.

For the next few years, they’ll still have the old core of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith to help usher in that generation. But that luxury won’t last forever, and the Hawks will especially need to hit on their free-agency additions and later-round picks when that time comes.

They’ll also need to develop Reichel wisely. The 18-year-old said bluntly Tuesday that his personal timeline to come to the NHL is two years. The Hawks must make sure those two years are used effectively, no matter whether Reichel stays in Germany for both or comes to North America in 2021.

Because there’s no doubt the Jets, Wild and Predators — not to mention the Avalanche, with one of the NHL’s best young cores, and the Stars and Blues, the last two Western Conference champions — will be doing the same with their equally talented future cornerstones.