The Chicago Blackhawks’ busy draft weekend kicked off with finally pulling the trigger on a trade for defenseman Seth Jones. This changed their draft order as they went from No. 12 in the first round to 32nd. They also gave up their first of two second-round picks in the deal (44th overall).
Many have complained about the lack of size in the Blackhawks lineup, and rightfully so. General manager Stan Bowman obviously had a goal to get bigger with his draft picks. In fact, this has been a trend as he has only drafted four players under 6-foot in his last three draft classes. Overall, there was an even mix of players taken this weekend with four defensemen and four forwards. This was the first time since 2017 where the Blackhawks did not draft a goaltender.
First Round (32nd overall) – Nolan Allan, LHD, Prince Albert Raiders
Bowman got to make his first selection of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft about two hours later than we expected after swapping first-round picks with the Columbus Blue Jackets. With plenty of offensive talent left on the board, like Francesco Pinelli, Aatu Raty, and Logan Stankoven, he decided to go with a defenseman. That decision would have been fine if he didn’t reach for Allan.
NHL Central Scouting had Allan as their 40th ranked North American skater heading into the draft. Many scouting lists had him as an early third-round pick at best. This is hardly the first time Bowman has reached on a pick, and if any of those forwards mentioned turn out to be good NHLers, this pick might look even worse down the road.
Allan, 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, flew under the radar for much of the 2020-21 season. He had a goal and an assist in his 16 Western Hockey League (WHL) games. He also made Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the IIHF U18 World Championships. He is a stay-at-home defenseman who is very effective in his own zone. His skating is his highest-touted skill among most scouting reports. He is a fundamentally sound player who can be a solid NHL defender. He is far from being a bad player, but he likely would have been available later in the draft. Time will tell if this was a brilliant pick or another first-round failure under Bowman.
Second Round (62nd Overall) – Colton Dach, C/LW/RW, Saskatoon Blades
Apparently, reuniting brothers was the theme of the weekend. The New Jersey Devils used the fourth overall pick to draft defenseman Luke Hughes, the younger brother of Jack. Less than 24 hours after Bowman got Caleb and Seth Jones back together, he drafted Kirby Dach’s younger brother Colton with his lone second-round pick.
Colton is another big body like his older brother. Where Kirby likes to pass first, Colton has a shooter’s mentality and has a very good shot to go with it. He had 11 goals and 20 points in 20 WHL games this past season. In 62 games the previous season, he had 11 goals and 29 points. The jump in offensive production helped him shoot up the draft board.
Dach showed his versatility by playing center and on both wings during the shortened season. Regardless of what position he is playing, he likes to get to the front of the net and engage in puck battles. Defensively, he uses his long reach to get into shooting and passing lanes. He is willing to throw a big check when the situation calls for it, but he isn’t an extremely physical player. He needs to work on his skating and acceleration, but he will have plenty of time to do so.
Third Round (91st overall) – Taige Harding – LHD – Fort McMurray Oil Barons
The Blackhawks were not supposed to pick in the third round until they traded one of their three third-rounders in 2022 to the Carolina Hurricanes for this one. They used the pick to select Harding, a 6-foot-7 defenseman who was born in Scotland.
Harding spent the last two seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). While the AJHL does not have the same competition as the big three leagues in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), it has been producing some quality players of late. In his second season with the Oil Barons, he had a jump in offensive production with five goals and 13 points in 16 games. He had just one goal and six points in 46 games during his rookie season in the AJHL.
He is known for having a booming slap shot from the point. Combine that with his height, and he will draw comparisons to future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara, but he has a long way to go to live up to that. Harding is committed to Providence College for the 2021-22 season, so he will get a chance to develop while playing for a first-class hockey program. With him and 2019 draft pick Alex Vlasic (6-foot-6), the Blackhawks might have a very tall defense in a couple of years.
Fourth Round (105th overall) – Ethan Del Mastro – LHD – Mississauga Steelheads
Bowman went right back to the blue line with his first of two fourth-round picks. He added more size with Del Mastro, who is 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. He put up seven assists in 57 games during his rookie season of 2019-20 in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). With no OHL season in 2020-21, the only game action he saw was with Team Canada at the IIHF U18 World Championships, where he had two assists in seven games.
Del Mastro brings physicality and mobility to go with his big frame. He is very smooth and quick for a player of his size. He attacks the body well and has an active stick to take away shooting and passing lanes. With his puck-moving ability and defensive game, he might be the best defenseman the Blackhawks took over the weekend. Had the OHL played this season, he’s a player that may have gone much higher than the fourth round.
Fourth Round (108th overall) – Victor Stjernborg, C/LW, Växjö Lakers HC
Three picks later, Bowman added Stjernborg out of Sweden to the prospect pool. He split the season between juniors and the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He had nine goals and 17 points in 19 games for Växjö’s U20 team. He played 30 pro games and had two goals and four points in limited ice time.
Stjernborg brings a lot of what the Blackhawks lack. He has a high motor and brings a lot of energy to the ice but plays with control. He is a tremendous two-way player who is heralded for his physical defensive play. He is only 5-foot-10, but at 202 pounds at just 18, he will be very hard to play against, and we all know the Blackhawks need more guys like that.
Sixth Round (172nd overall) – Ilya Safonov, C, Ak Bars Kazan
Safonov is another player who will bring size. The 20-year-old center has a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame, so he checks off a few boxes right off the bat. He played in 37 regular-season games for the Kontinental Hockey League’s (KHL) top Eastern Conference team. He had two goals and four points before added three assists in 11 playoff games.
Don’t let the low numbers discourage you, as it is hard for a young player to get meaningful minutes in the KHL. He had a pair of goals for Russia at the 2021 IIHF U20 World Junior Championship. A late bloomer, so to speak, Safonov is a strong skater with good vision. He’s a playmaking center with a high compete level who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Seventh Round (204th overall) – Connor Kelley, RHD, University of Minnesota-Duluth
Kelley was a teammate of Wyatt Kaiser, who the Blackhawks drafted in the third round last year. He is an alum of the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP), a favorite of Bowman. He had three goals and five points in 25 NCAA games last season. He only had four penalty minutes to go with a plus-10 rating.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defender was passed up in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Scouts rave about his instincts on the ice and his fearless style of play. He reads the play exceptionally well and is quick to react. He is an excellent puck mover and loves to have the rubber on his stick. He gets to top speed rather quickly and has above stickhandling to help get around opponents in the neutral zone.
Seventh Round (216th overall) – Jalen Luypen, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings
Luypen is the smallest player of the Blackhawks’ 2021 draft class at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds. He had a huge uptick in offensive production during the WHL’s condensed season. He put up 16 goals and 29 points in 23 games for the Oil Kings. He had 16 goals and 31 points in 113 combined games during his first two junior seasons.
The left-winger plays with a lot of energy and has been very effective on Edmonton’s penalty kill. Adding the offensive flair to his game in 2020-21 made him worth the seventh-round flier. He had goals in all phases of the game last season; full strength, shorthanded, and on the power play. He was named the Oil Kings’ Most Improved Player for the 2020-21 season.
The weekend started with the huge trade with the Blue Jackets and ended with eight more players added to the pipeline. This was a crazy draft with practically all scouting having to be done on video with minimal in-person viewing. There will be players that were drafted way too early and those that will provide tremendous value at their slots. Only time will tell if this draft class can be considered a success or failure.
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Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.