How Blackhawks brass zeroes in on who to pick in NHL draft

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • The Blackhawks and general manager Stan Bowman have the No. 26 pick in the first round of the tonight's NHL draft.

    The Blackhawks and general manager Stan Bowman have the No. 26 pick in the first round of the tonight's NHL draft. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/23/2017 6:47 AM

After thousands of hours on the road, sitting in meetings, watching games and perhaps a million cups of coffee, the Blackhawks' scouting staff has compiled its big board.

Every player that GM Stan Bowman and vice president of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley might take has a place on that board.

 

They arrived there thanks to a staff of 13 that ranked each player's skating, puck skills, hockey sense and compete level -- as well as how they did in numerous interviews.

And 48 hours from now -- barring a trade or two -- 10 of them will be welcomed to the organization with open arms.

Draft day 2017 is here -- right here in Chicago at the United Center, where the first round will take place Friday, and rounds 2-7 on Saturday.

It amounts to a Super Bowl of sorts for Kelley and the team's staff members, who have done all it can to find the next generation of Hawks.

Here's a closer look at how they got here and what will transpire at the United Center.

Mirror, mirror ...

The Hawks' scouting staff has more than doubled in size since 2007, when Rocky Wirtz took over as owner and John McDonough became president and CEO. These 13 scout scour the globe looking at hundreds of players in the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior League, the U.S. Hockey League, as well as players in high school, college and Europe.

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Many are assigned their own regions, and the entire group meets five times a year. At first, discussions revolve around which players they see as potential fits. As time goes by, scouts move players up or down their charts based on their play and where they're expected to be in the future.

In a sense, they are peering into an ice hockey crystal ball.

"The hardest part is to project what's going to happen in the next two to four years in the development phase," Kelley said. "It would be easy if we were ranking a player just based on what he's done in the past. That list would look totally different for projecting what's going to happen in the future."

What's up, kid?

The Blackhawks will have interviewed every player they draft, and nearly every one taken by all 31 teams.

Every one.

Interviews are conducted to find if a player can mentally make it at the highest level.

At the NHL Scouting Combine in early June, some players met with a representative from every team.

"It's very stressful," said NHL Network analyst Dave Reid, who played in 962 regular-season games from 1983-2001. "You've got to remember these are just teenagers, and they're sitting in a room by themselves -- there's no agent, there's no parent, there's nobody."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

During Episode 3 of "On the Clock," a four-part series produced by the Blackhawks that takes fans through the draft process, Kelley fires questions at potential draftees:

• In three or four years, who would you see yourself playing with (and) in what role?

• If someone in this room had never seen you play before, give me an NHL player you play similar to.

• If you could take one player from your under-18 team that you could play with the rest of your life, who would it be?

• Any concussions?

Bowman said these interviews don't move guys "way up or way down" but they can provide insight to the scouts on how players might deal with adversity.

"These guys are going to have to go through a process where they're not the best player and they're not playing every night," Bowman said. "They're playing occasionally.

"Are they going to be able to fight through that and figure out their role? You can sometimes understand that when you talk to players. You get a feeling that maybe this guy's not going to dig in as much as the next guy."

The big days

So are Kelley and Bowman chewing their fingernails at the draft? Pacing? Pulling their hair out?

Not at all.

"I wouldn't say we're nervous," Kelley said. "I'd say we're excited."

Last year the Hawks didn't have a first-round pick but were thrilled when Alex DeBrincat was available at No. 39. They pounced and fans will soon learn if the three-time 50-goal scorer in the OHL can play with the big boys.

This year, the Hawks' first-round pick is No. 26 overall, but with 10 picks in this draft, it wouldn't be surprising to see them attempt to move up.

Bowman and Kelley want players who can have an impact, but they must be flexible as players fall off the board.

"Early in a draft it's easier to distinguish A to Z on how you have players ranked," Kelley said. "As we start to move into the draft, you might have eight players in the same value. If you rank those eight players, it might go forward-forward-defenseman-forward-defenseman-defenseman.

"But if you start looking at them, the separation between them is minimal. Then you might start looking at depth-chart positional needs."

Kelley said he can't remember a time he felt bummed or sickened that a team snatched someone the Hawks wanted. Kelley also said he and Bowman put full trust in the board the staff has put together.

So much so that there is complete agreement on which player the Hawks should take.

Every. Single. Time.

"It would fall upon Stan to make the final call, but I don't remember a time when we were in disagreement," Kelley said. "We go in there 100 percent consensus on our board, and when we make the pick there's been 100 percent consensus between Stan and I.

"The philosophy we've put together with the scouting staff leads to that."

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