Kelley explains why Blackhawks took Allen in first round
That was the reaction of defenseman 18-year-old Nolan Allen after learning the Blackhawks selected him with the 32nd overall pick Friday in the NHL draft.
And guess what? He wasn't the only one.
Some hockey experts and prognosticators had Allen going deep into the second round or even the third.
But the Hawks obviously see something special in Allen, which prompted them to snare him with the last pick of the opening round.
"You start looking at how boards are built and you start putting numbers on players, how much separation is there?" said Mark Kelley, the Hawks vice president of amateur scouting. "Obviously we had him higher than what some prognosticators had him, but we're very comfortable. In time, people are going to understand the (reason)."
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Allen was part of Canada's gold-medal winning quad at the 2021 IIHF under-18 World Junior Championship. His strong, physical play against other teams' top players impressed Kelley and general manager Stan Bowman.
"When we broke down that whole tournament, he just stood out," Kelley said. "He was a defensive stalwart. A lot of times those type of players, they don't get quite the same kind of attention. But when we watch the (Stanley Cup) playoffs, they're high value."
Allen played in the WHL (juniors) for the Prince Albert Raiders last season and plans to return for the 2021-22 campaign. He compared himself to Vegas' Brayden McNabb, who has carved out an impressive seven-year career as a stay-at-home D-man.
Allen does want to work on his offensive game, however, hoping to improve his "puck skills, shot or jumping into the play" at the right times.
Six of the eight players chosen by the Hawks were at least six feet tall, with four at 6-4 or taller. Kelley said there was an emphasis on adding size.
"When we watched the league -- how it is going now -- the teams that have the big defenders are having a lot of success," he said. "There was some real good size on the back end."
That includes the 6-7, 235-pound Taije Harding, whom the Hawks took in the third round (91st overall), and the 6-4, 210-pound Ethan Del Mastero, who went 14 picks later.
Harding was an assistant captain with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Then, of course, there's Colton Dach -- the younger brother of Kirby. The Hawks took Colton with the 62nd overall pick and project him to be more of a power forward than a center.
Kelley made sure to point out the Hawks selected Colton on his merits, and not because they already have Kirby.
The Hawks think Colton can be a player who scores plenty of dirty goals by using his 6-4 frame to obstruct and annoy goaltenders. He will play at least one more season in the WHL, meaning he'll see plenty of Allen in an enemy uniform.
"He's playing in Saskatoon; Nolan is in Prince Albert," Kelley said. "Nolan likes to defend the front of the net; Colton likes to get to the front of the net. So that should be fun to watch."
Which is what the Hawks are hoping they can say of many of these players for years to come.
The Hawks extended qualifying offers to the following restricted free agents Monday afternoon: Brandon Hagel, Alex Nylander and Nikita Zadorov. The following were not qualified: Josh Dickinson, Adam Gaudette, David Kampf and Pius Suter.
Four minutes later, the Hawks announced they gave Gaudette a one-year deal that carries a $997,500 cap hit. The forward was acquired from Vancouver in March.
A look at Blackhawks draft picksBlackhawks draft picks
Defenseman Nolan Allan, 18Taken: First round, 32nd overall; Height, weight: 6-2, 195
Skinny: Helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2021 IIHF U18 World Junior Championship. Recorded a goal and an assist in seven games. Also played in 16 regular-season games for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League in 2020-21. He had a goal and an assist.
He said it: "More prominent in the defensive zone, but his decisions with the puck are very good. He doesn't create problems for himself. His game has enough predictability in it that it's going to allow his partner to do things."
-- Hawks VP of amateur scouting Mark Kelley
Forward Colton Dach, 18Taken: Second round, 62nd overall; Height, weight: 6-4, 196
Skinny: Younger brother of current Blackhawks center, Kirby Dach. Colton registered 20 points (11G, 9A) in 20 regular-season games with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League in 2020-21. Made WHL debut with the Blades during the 2019-20 campaign, posting 29 points (11G, 18A) in 62 regular-season games.
He said it: "I'd say we looked at Colton harder than anyone we looked at in the draft. I said ... we have to draft Colton based upon his merit. I probably raised the bar higher for him. He's a different kind of player than Kirby. He's more direct in going to the net. He likes to shoot. He has that power forward M.O."
-- Mark Kelley
Defenseman Taige Harding, 19Taken: Third round, 91st overall; Height, weight: 6-7, 235
Skinny: The Alberta native was an assistant captain with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2020-21. Notched 5 goals and 8 assists. He will attend Providence College in the fall.
He said it: "The Providence program is a great step in the whole development program. Very athletic for his size. Good mobility. He handles the puck very well."
-- Mark Kelley
Defenseman Ethan Del Mastero, 18Taken: Fourth round, 105th overall; Height, weight: 6-4, 210
Skinny: Part of Canada's gold-medal winning team at 2021 IIHF U18 World Junior Championship. The Burlington, Ontario native had 2 assists in seven games. Del Mastro had 7 assists with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League during the 2019-20 season.
Forward Victor Stjernborg, 18Taken: Fourth round, 108th overall; Height, weight: 5-11, 202
Skinny: Played for Vaxjo Lakers of the Swedish Hockey League during 2020-21, recording 2 goals and 2 assists in 30 regular-season games.
Forward Ilya Safonov, 20Taken: Sixth round, 172nd overall; Height, weight: 6-4, 205
Skinny: Had 4 points (2G, 2A) in 37 regular-season KHL games and added 3 assists in 11 postseason contests. He also scored twice for Russia at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Defenseman Connor Kelley, 19Taken: Seventh round, 204th overall; Height, weight: 6-1, 190
Skinny: Had 5 points (3G, 2A) in 25 games for University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Forward Jalen Luypen, 19Taken: Seventh round, 216th overall; Height, weight: 5-10, 155
Skinny: Registered Western Hockey League career highs in goals (16), assists (13) and points (29) with the Edmonton Oil Kings in just 23 games. Had 9 goals, 9 assists in 64 games previous season.