The 2017 NHL Entry Draft is almost upon us. Most of the front office and player personnel staff from each team has already gathered in Chicago in preparation for the event that will take place from June 23-24. I’ll be there to take in all the sights and sounds, with a particular interest in the newest collection of talent that the host franchise Chicago Blackhawks will add to their organization.
To ready ourselves for this weekend’s festivities, let’s review the picks that the Blackhawks have and highlight some of the players Chicago could target in the early rounds.
Blackhawks Draft Selections
There could be some change in the Blackhawks’ draft selections as we move through the expansion draft. Pre- or in-draft transactions could also alter the club’s picks. For now, here are the 10 selections that the Blackhawks own:
- 1st round – #26 overall.
- 2nd round – #57 overall.
- 3rd round – #90 overall. The Blackhawks received this pick for trading the restricted free agent rights of Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes in April 2017. Carolina received the pick from the Ottawa Senators for trading Viktor Stalberg in February 2017.
- 4th round – #119 overall.
- 5th round – #135 overall. The Hurricanes traded this pick to Chicago as part of the Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom trade in 2015. The Blackhawks lost their original 3rd round pick as part of this same trade.
- 5th round – #144 overall. This pick is from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Chicago’s 2016 5th round selection.
- 5th round – #150 overall.
- 6th round – #170 overall. This pick is from the New York Islanders as compensation for an exchange of 4th round picks in the 2016 draft (Islanders moved up 15 spots).
- 6th round – #181 overall.
- 7th round – #215 overall. This pick was part of a 2016 trade with the Anaheim Ducks. In addition to the pick, the Blackhawks received Tim Jackman in exchange for Corey Tropp, who was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad deal.
Who’s on Bowman’s Radar?
Predicting the 26th overall pick as well as subsequent draft selections is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. There’s no point, given the number of variables that could influence general manager Stan Bowman’s decision before he takes the stage to announce their first 2017 draft selection.
But, there is value in discussing some of the names Chicago could target with their first- and second-round picks. When it comes to the draft, hockey is at a disadvantage compared to some of the other major American professional sports leagues, particularly the NFL and NBA. Millions of fans don’t tune into Junior, Canadian and European hockey leagues like they do college football and basketball.
My goal is to bring attention to some names that fans can familiarize themselves with in advance of Friday night. If you’re really looking to dig in, THW’s Draft Guide has an abundance of information, including more in-depth profiles on each player.
As I noted in my Blackhawks Offseason Blueprint column, Chicago needs to consider adding depth and acquiring NHL talent at the center and defensive positions in particular. That strategy plays into some of the possibilities highlighted herein.
In discussing the prospects, I used Future Considerations (FC) for my draft rankings and certain scouting commentary to maintain consistency across the players discussed. There are many reputable sources for such rankings, which can fluctuate across the industry. Our aforementioned Draft Guide does a great job of providing the different rankings and industry sentiments on each particular player.
One last note on potential draft strategy for the Blackhawks. If a player high on Chicago’s board starts to fall towards them, they have plenty of draft capital to trade up to grab that player. That could make sense, particularly in the first or second round where there is a higher chance of getting an impact player. Such a strategy is something the Blackhawks should consider for a few of the names below.
Ryan Poehling – Center – St. Cloud State (NCAA)
As the 21st-ranked prospect, Poehling may not be around for the Blackhawks’ first selection. But, if he is, Chicago should strongly consider drafting him. At 6’2″ and 185 pounds, Poehling has nice size. He is regarded as a two-way center prospect with a strong compete level, a hard shot, good face-off skills and hockey intelligence. Although he won’t be the fastest player on the ice, he can win one-on-one puck battles.
Timothy Liljegren – Defenseman – Rogle (SHL)
Liljegren ranked 22nd overall, is another player that may be chosen by the time Chicago is on the clock. But, if he falls down the board a bit, the Blackhawks would be wise to bring him into the organization.
Currently playing in Sweden’s best hockey league, he has often drawn comparisons to the Senators’ Erik Karlsson. Long-term, he could be the replacement for Duncan Keith. Liljegren moves the puck well, is a fluid skater with a creative offensive mind and has the potential to project as a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL.
Robert Thomas – Center – London (OHL)
Playing in Patrick Kane’s old stomping grounds, Thomas is the 33rd-ranked prospect in this year’s draft. If Poehling isn’t available and Bowman wants a center, Thomas would be a great choice. He is instinctive, quick, a solid puck-handler and aggressive on the forecheck. He is terrific at face-offs, a skill set the Blackhawks desperately need behind Jonathan Toews.
Shane Bowers – Center – Waterloo (USHL)
With the 31st-overall ranking, Bowers would be another solid option for the Blackhawks. If you’re not noticing the trend, he is another two-way center that plays intelligently and is capable of winning puck battles. Bowers is slated to play for Boston University in 2017-18.
Henri Jokiharju – Defenseman – Portland (WHL)
Jokiharju is FC’s 35th-ranked prospect and the player that I took for Chicago in THW’s mock draft. He has some similarities to Liljegren and is a creative, puck-moving defenseman.
From a defensive perspective, two bonus names to consider are Conor Timmins (44th overall) and Jusso Valimaki (12th overall). Valimaki would make a great addition, but he will likely be off the board by the time Chicago selects.
2nd Round Options
Of course, if any of the aforementioned players were to fall to the mid- or late-second round, it would be worth it for Chicago to consider moving up to grab one of the talents. Presuming that all of those players will be gone by the time the Blackhawks’ 57th overall selection comes around, there are a few other names to keep an eye on.
Two centers that I like include Scott Reedy of the US National Team (ranked 53rd overall) and Morgan Frost (55th overall) of the OHL’s Sault Ste Marie. Reedy has the size, but Frost has plenty of speed and scoring ability. Frost may also have the versatility to project at left wing, an area where the Blackhawks are thin behind Artemi Panarin. In my estimation, either would be a great pick for Chicago in the 2nd round.
If Bowman wanted to go with a defenseman, some names to keep an eye on include David Farrance (ranked 48th), Pierre-Olivier Joseph (50th) and Markus Phillips (60th).
Although I wouldn’t advocate taking a goaltender over some of the skaters that will be available in the early rounds, the Blackhawks’ system is in need of a netminder or two that have the potential to develop into their next starter. Jake Oettinger of Boston University is the highest-ranked goalie prospect at 26th overall. Others that could factor into the equation if the Blackhawks decide to go that route are Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (42nd overall) and Ian Scott (74th).
THW Draft Coverage
As the draft progresses, The Hockey Writers team will be bringing you all of the noteworthy news from Chicago. I’ll be back to discuss the specific results of the draft for the Blackhawks once some of the selections are in the books. One thing is certain, the NHL will give us plenty to talk about over the next four days.