Kelley explains why Blackhawks took Allen in first round

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
 
 
Updated 7/26/2021 7:26 PM

Shock.

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."

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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.

Qualifying offers

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.

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