Blackhawks jumpstart rebuild by trading Brandon Hagel to Lightning for huge return

The Hawks acquired two first-round draft picks and two young NHL forwards, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk.

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Brandon Hagel was traded from the Blackhawks to the Lightning on Friday.

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New Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson sent a strong message Friday: rebuilding means rebuilding.

In a stunning blockbuster trade, the Hawks dealt Brandon Hagel to the Lightning — along with two fourth-round draft picks — for two first-round picks and two young NHL forwards, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk.

Parting ways with Hagel, whose endless work ethic and tenacity had quickly made him a fan favorite and a unique player on the Hawks the last two seasons, is painful. But rebuilding in general is painful.

Sources had said Davidson was willing to trade Hagel only if blown away by an offer — and this return likely blew him past the moon.

“I said a few weeks ago that we are rebuilding, and this is clearly the start of that,” Davidson said in a statement. “Getting two first-round draft picks as well as two young NHL players helps us kick-start that process in a major way.

“We know that Brandon Hagel was a fan favorite — our fans loved him for all the reasons we loved him — and we know he will be successful with the Lightning.”

Hefty return

The two first-round picks are in 2023 and 2024, so they don’t solve the problem of the Hawks’ not having one in this year’s draft. But they’ll significantly bolster the draft classes in both of those years. The Hawks own the Lightning’s 2023 second-round pick, as well, thanks to the Tyler Johnson trade.

The years on the picks offer another indication that Davidson is clearly thinking long-term with his rebuilding strategy. The picks are top-10 protected, although they’re far more likely to fall near the bottom of the round considering the Lightning’s track record.

Raddysh and Katchouk were second-round picks who weren’t able to ascend quickly in Tampa — because of all the talent above them — but have the potential to grow into impactful players when given more opportunity in Chicago.

Interim coach Derek King tellingly said earlier Friday he hoped the Hawks could get some NHL players back in their inevitable trades so they could keep Rockford’s roster as consistent as possible for the AHL playoffs, believing that experience will help their prospects down there. Raddysh and Katchouk fit that description.

Raddysh, 24, has tallied 12 points in 53 NHL games after tallying 110 points in 159 AHL games the last three seasons. He was once Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome’s linemate in the OHL (though Strome’s days on the Hawks might be numbered).

Katchouk, 23, has tallied six points in 38 NHL games after tallying 89 points in 164 AHL games the last three seasons.

It’s a stretch to call either “prospects,” given they’re finishing up their fourth professional seasons, but they could be useful bottom-six wingers for years to come. Katchouk touts an impressive 56.1% scoring-chance ratio at even strength, and Raddysh’s 52.4% ratio isn’t bad, either.

They’re each signed through 2024 with $758,000 salary-cap hits.

Hagel’s whirlwind

Back in February, when trade rumors started surprisingly swirling around Hagel and it was reported the Hawks’ asking price was a first-round pick and a prospect, Hagel delivered one of the best quotes of the season.

“Seeing what they want for me, you gotta take it as a compliment, no?” he said Feb. 22, laughing. “Come on, I was a sixth-rounder brought in as a 20-year-old, just this kid who came and played. And they want that? I’ll take that any day.”

After his hat trick against the Devils three days later, he joked the asking price might’ve increased to “two firsts, a couple of prospects, [and Connor] McDavid maybe, I don’t know.”

It turns out he wasn’t far off. The massive return he garnered would’ve been downright impossible to imagine three years ago.

As an overage junior player in 2018-19, having gone unsigned by the Sabres, he considered signing up for college classes, thinking a pro hockey career might not be in the cards. Even after signing with the Hawks, he was hardly considered a likely future NHL player. Up until January 2020, he’d played one career NHL game.

But he proved himself quickly last season, producing 24 points in 52 games, and then took another step forward with 37 points (including 21 goals) in 55 games to date. The three-year contract with a very affordable $1.5 million cap hit he signed last summer also made him valuable.

His elite skating speed, ability to win pucks back and high hockey IQ make him a perfect fit for the Lightning, who have sought all season to replace the three scrappy forwards — Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Yanni Gourde — who formed their dominant third line last season.

There was certainly a good argument for the Hawks to keep him and make him part of the rebuild, considering his contagiously positive attitude. But there was also a good argument to trade him, maximizing his sky-high value — his 22.3% shooting percentage, for one thing, is unquestionably unsustainable.

More moves coming

The Hagel deal is likely just the first of numerous trades the Hawks will execute before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Raddysh and Katchouk’s additions make Dominik Kubalik even more expendable as trade negotiations around him continue to evolve, with the Oilers and Jets sounding like the frontrunners.

Strome, Ryan Carpenter, Calvin de Haan, Henrik Borgstrom and Kevin Lankinen all have decent odds of being traded, too, whereas the Marc-Andre Fleury situation remains entirely up in the air.

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