But this time, it’s different…
The good news is: it’s all part of the plan. This isn’t the be-all, end-all of an aging core; there are better days ahead for this team. Elvis Merzlikins is going to bounce back at some point, he just needs to regain his confidence. I think having Joonas Korpisalo by his side will help, and that’s on the horizon. He needs someone to really push him, and the two have a healthy relationship.
Maybe Kent Johnson can develop into a top-2 center in the NHL. He already looks capable of playing a top-6 scoring role, it’s just a matter of developing him down the middle. David Jiricek looked pretty good last night, aside from the occasional glaring mistake. There’s a ton of talent there and he’ll learn the pro game as he goes along.
Yegor Chinakhov is quietly developing into a very high end two-way winger. The aforementioned Blankenburg was a free pickup for this team, and he looks like a gem too. They still have high end prospects in the system – Kirill Marchenko is scoring at a steady pace in the AHL. Jordan Dumais is destroying the QMJHL. Denton Mateychuk and Corson Ceulemans could be future top-4 fixtures.
And, if the season really does go down the drain, we’re adding another top-10 pick, in a draft that could rival 2015 and 2003 in talent. It’s entirely possible to find a prospect who could develop into a true #1 center for this team. Some of the guys in this draft will be ready to go next year. Imagine this team running out a Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli next season, in between Patrik Laine and Johnny Gaudreau. Now we’re getting somewhere.
I know what you’re thinking: you’ve heard this all before. Accumulate draft picks, build for the future, blah blah blah. You’re right, we’ve been sold this.
But this time, it’s different. There’s an actual plan in the works. There’s actual talent at the NHL level, it just needs time to gel and become a team. The prospects aren’t being rushed into roles they aren’t ready for. Just look at how hard Chinakhov competed to even make the team this year. There will be ups and downs – right now we’re experience the downs. But the ups will be incredibly fun. Gone are the days of scrapping out a 2-1 win. This team will be exciting and fun to watch when the wheels are turning.
Be patient, give this one more chance. I’ve been a fan since the team’s inception, and I’ve never seen them ice a team this talented … and they still have some of their best prospects waiting in the wings. It’s going to be special, we just need to let it grow and see teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston age out of things. Then we’ll be ready to strike.