By Chris Block
Friday evening’s opening round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft came and went without any involvement from the Chicago Blackhawks.
The anticipated trade of Patrick Sharp did not materialize as of late Friday, and general manager Stan Bowman was unable to move any other contracts, with Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg being the names prominently being floated as on the block.
Bowman and company were also unable to maneuver their way into a first round pick. The Arizona Coyotes used the pick they obtained from the Blackhawks in the Antoine Vermette trade to select Kelowna’s Nick Merkley, a 5’10” playmaking center who plays on the gritty size and was seen as a mid first round pick by most draft services.
There was a lot of movement up and down the first round board. Boston made the biggest headlines of the day swinging separate deals with Calgary and Los Angeles so that the Bruins wound up with the #13, #14 and #15 picks on Friday. Boston sent restricted free agent Dougie Hamilton to the Flames for the #15 pick, the #45 and #52. The Bruins then sent fan favorite Milan Lucic to the Kings in exchange for the #13 pick, goalie Martin Jones and minor league defenseman Colin Miller.
Ottawa traded goaltender Robin Lehner and center David Legwand to Buffalo in exchange for the 21st pick, which the Sens used to take center Colin White of the US National Development Team. White is headed to Boston College and regularly draws comparisons to Patrick Bergeron. White grew up in Boston and is a B’s fan.
Garth Snow worked the phones for the New York Islanders, moving up to acquire the #16 pick and the #28 pick to take center Mathew Barzal (Seattle-WHL) and LW-Anthony Beauvillier (Shawinigan-QMJHL) respectively. Barzal was a top-ten projected pick who has had injury troubles the past two seasons and is just averaged size (5-11) and an above average skater.
Throughout the day the Islanders, Bruins and Canadiens were at various times linked to the Patrick Sharp rumors. The Islanders and Bruins made deals and acquired extra picks but neither team made a move on Sharp. Montreal stood pat with its pick at #26 where Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin was happy to select defenseman Noah Juulsen out of Everett (WHL).
Other deals of Day 1 included Colorado sending center Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo along with left wing Jamie McGuinn in exchange for prospects Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher and the #31 pick that kicks off the second round on Saturday.
So, the Blackhawks enter Saturday with all the same 7 picks they arrived with in South Florida.
Rd 2 – #54 (Compensatory pick for unsigned 1st round pick Kevin Hayes-2010)
Rd 3 – #91
Rd 4 – #121
Rd 5 – #151
Rd 6 – #164
Rd 6 – #181
Rd 7 – #211
DAY 2 NAMES
Two of the names that jump out at me should the Hawks pick at #54 would be the Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL) center Tom Novak as well as Sweden league winger Robin Kovacs.
Novak is a skilled playmaker who was the center for Canucks 1st round pick Brock Boeser at Waterloo. Novak is headed to Minnesota (NCAA) in the fall. I saw Novak play a couple times this past year and what stands out is his passing and confidence. He’s a supreme puck distributor. What drops Novak down into the second round is probably a lack of a second gear speed wise and his shot is just okay at this point. But he has a lot of time to improve on that and going to college gives Novak the extra time to work on his strength and speed. He does backcheck hard. Projection would be a Brad Richards type on the high end.
Kovacs checks all the boxes as far as the Blackhawks are concerned. A skilled, highly competitive right winger who led Sweden’s secondary pro league team AIK in scoring this past season. AIK was the Allsvenskan’s second worst team, but its impressive nonetheless for an 18 year old skating against a league of men. The Hawks typically prefer to go with centers and convert them to wing, but Kovacs could warrant an exception.
David Cotton, a big center who also skates his off wing (RW) often out of Cushing Academy will be a name to watch for in the second round. Cotton is a Dallas, TX area native who has moved around to Colorado and Boston as a teenager to further his hockey career. Cotton is 6’2.5″ and 200 pounds. He lit it up at Cushing Academy (Boston high school WWE star John Cena went to as well) for 120 points over 65 games. Cotton will play for the Waterloo Blackhawks next year before joining Boston College in 2016-17. He’s ready for the challenge of USHL level hockey and likely will do very well there. Cotton is a good skater for his size and has tremendous puck skills from what I’ve seen on video. The scouting services have Cotton going anywhere from mid second round to the fourth.
The Blackhawks have been happy to draft players who are headed for college and use the time to develop. Muskegon (USHL) defensemen Joe Cecconi, who is headed to Michigan in the fall could by right up the Blackhawks alley. Cecconi is a Youngstown, New York native who got better and better as the season wore on at Muskegon, culminating in a strong playoff run based on scouting reports. Having watched Cecconi the times Muskegon visited the Chicago Steel, he has a very strong base from the blue line. He makes great first passes and was Muskegon’s quarterback every time he was on the ice.
Stan Bowman has been a loyal to the Chicago Mission program at the draft over the years and this year there are quite a few Mission program grown players available.
Christian Fischer (US NDTP) is a grinding right winger headed for Notre Dame in the fall. Fischer is a Chicago area native who spent a number of years in the Mission program. The Fighting Irish aren’t too happy right now with the Hawks for pulling Vince Hinostroza a year premature probably, but I’m not sure that would factor into the Hawks decision making at the draft at all.
Tanner Laczynski (Chicago Steel) is another name to keep an eye on in the later rounds. He’s a Shorewood native who also played for the Mission. Laczynski, a forward who can play center or wing, is the type of prospect that you probably didn’t particularly go to see, but you often left with the most notes on. This happened to me a few times this year. The biggest thing that impressed me with Laczynski is how quick he gets to pucks in the defensive zone and turns them up ice. He plays bigger than his size (6-0, 174) though he should still grow out a little more. Laczynski posted 18 goals and 28 assists in 57 games for the Steel last season and will return to the Steel this fall before heading to Ohio State in 2016-17. That gives him a lot of time to grow and develop and at a later round value pick the Blackhawks could really like that value. Projects as a third line forward.
Zach Osburn is another Chicago Steel player to keep an eye out for on Saturday. Only modest sized for a defenseman (5-11, 179) his game has a lot of what a team such as the Blackhawks like. Osburn can really scoot and he loves to fire the puck. Osburn was paired a lot with Peter Tischke, a bigger body dman whose headed to Wisconsin, and less so with Dennis Gilbert, the Steel defenseman who has the bigger name looking to go in today’s second or third round. Osburn, a Plymouth, Michigan native who came up in the Honeybaked program will play for Michigan State in the fall.
Looking at goaltending, the Blackhawks believe that goalies don’t fully develop into their potential until age 25, so I wouldn’t expect them to draft an 18-year old goalie currently playing Canadian junior. If the Hawks select a goalie on Saturday, look for it to be a European netminder, someone headed for U.S. college hockey or an overager.
Ken Appleby (Oshawa-OHL) is a 20-year old in his final year of draft eligibility. Appleby is a 6’4″ goalie who the Hawks have shown a lot of interest in over recent years. Appleby was an invite at last year’s prospect camp (he attended Arizona’s as well). The Blackhawks also brought Appleby into Chicago a couple weeks ago for conditioning evaluations. Appleby was terrific in net for a strong Oshawa team this past year. He was the goalie who eliminated Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome’s Erie Otters from the OHL playoffs. Appleby’s save percentage in the OHL this year was .924. In the playoffs – .922 and in the Memorial Cup he posted a 2.08 goals against and .915 save percentage.
Adam Huska of the Green Bay Gamblers is another intriguing goalie on the draft board. Huska left the Slovakian U18 team mid season to join Green Bay. He didn’t get a ton of time in the nets for the Gamblers but he is returning there in the fall. Huska is exactly what the Hawks like in a goalie – big, agile, quick feet and athletic. Reading a few scouting reports on him, the consensus seems to be Huska’s mechanics still need some work but his potential is on the high end. Huska has not committed to a college at this point. If he has plans to, that would make this a more attractive pick for the Blackhawks, in my view. Huska’s teammate on the Slovakian team, Matej Tomek will be joining North Dakota, so there’s an assumption that Huska will follow suit.