In the eyes of General Manager Kyle Davidson, the climb back to prominence starts right now for the Chicago Blackhawks.

After a pair of dismal seasons with finishes third-from and second-to last place, respectively, in the NHL standings — a known byproduct going in of the overall rebuild plan the organization embarked on — the pieces are in place for the team to start showing improvement year over year going forward.

“We want to take the next step here and progress,” he told reporters. “We don't want to finish where we finished this year moving forward. That's not what we're looking to do anymore … That can't happen again. We need to start moving up and onward.”

It won’t be an overnight flip of the switch to become a perennial playoff contender again, but he and the rest of the staff want to see competitive progression.

General Manager Kyle Davidson meets with reporters after the end of the 2023-24 season

“There needs to be progression,” Davidson continued. “I don't know how many points or standing slots that is, but we can't finish second(-to) last in the league. I think the standard has to be raised. The expectation has to be raised. Through that, accountability will be raised. That's the nature of the path we're on. Eventually, we have to start making positive steps, and I think we've reached that point.

“Im not saying that we're going to be competing for playoffs or Stanley Cups or anything this next year, I don't know how realistic that is -- it's the best league in the world, best players and best teams in the world, and so to say we're just going to improve a whole great deal in the standings is difficult, but we need to be better. And it's time to take a step forward.”

Just over two years ago, Davidson took on the full-time GM job and was clear from day one the organization needed to start over, rebuilding its roster from the ground up.

A few months later, he made the difficult calls to move on from players like Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach at the 2022 draft in an effort to reset the organization from top to bottom. Those two moves alone yielded the draft picks Davidson and director of amateur scouting Mike Doneghey used to select Kevin Korchinski (7th overall) and Frank Nazar (13th overall) in the first round, both of whom made the jump to the NHL this season. The organization also added forwards Paul Ludwinski (39th overall) and Gavin Hayes (66th overall), as well as an upcoming third-round pick in this year’s draft, as part of the trades — more key pieces for the future.

Of course, almost a year ago, the organization’s trajectory took a big leap forward in winning the lottery rights to pick Connor Bedard with the No. 1 overall selection — a generational talent who proved in his rookie season he’s going to be a force in the league for years to come. Even more NHL names are sure to emerge from the draft haul a year ago, as well.

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All told, Davidson and Co. have made 15 picks in the first three rounds of the draft over the past two summers (eight in 2022 and another seven in 2023) along with seven more picks combined in the later rounds. Chicago enters the 2024 NHL Draft with another seven selections in the first three rounds, bringing the three-year total, should all picks be made, to 22 highly-touted prospects drafted in just over 27 months on the job for Davidson — not to mention work in the trade market and free agency, as well as the development work done with players drafted before he took over, like Alex Vlasic and Landon Slaggert.

The Blackhawks have endured two of the franchise’s worst statistical seasons in the post-Original Six era over the last two years, but in the process have completely rebuilt their prospect pool. Now, the focus turns to taking steps forward in the on-ice performance as the prospects become the present.

“We did see some exciting things along the way (this season),” Davidson said. “Obviously, some young players in the lineup that spent most of the year in the NHL, and then some that made some appearances along the way that I think show some pretty solid excitement for what is to come, and what we can become down the road. I think the season showed there's a lot of work to do. There's a lot of steps we need to take and steps that we're going to (take). We’re going to work to make good on in the future here."

And it's not just the prospect pool Davidson is looking to in taking the team to the next level going forward.

Going into offseason roster decisions around the current roster, the draft and free agency, Chicago wants to continue to build the culture and identity of the team. There will likely be roster turnover as part of that, he said. But in setting a clear expectation from the top of progress needed next season, Davidson is hopeful that added competition for roster spots will create more personal accountability within the room, and will in turn start to lead to more success on the ice.

"There's definitely a willingness to create some meaningful battles in training camp," he said. "We want competition, and we want the best players for those spots to win those roster spots. No one's going to walk in here next fall anointed a spot, they've got to come earn it. They've got to come take it. We've talked about resetting the culture, and resetting the way we think about things and do things. And that starts with on day one next year in training camp for guys having to come in earned a spot, and no one being given anything."

"It's not realistic to say we're going to go win the Stanley Cup," Davidson added. "That's obviously the goal every year, but we also have to be realistic with where we're at, and work to that point where we can be fortunate enough to be in that conversation. That's going to take time, but it has to start one step at a time, and that starts next year in training camp."