When playing the game of trying to nail down whom the Blackhawks will take with the eighth overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft, it serves you well to consider the characteristics they value in their players.
And for that we turn to Mark Kelley, the Hawks' vice president of amateur scouting.
"The hockey IQ, the skating, the skill set," said Kelley, who joined the Hawks in 2006. "We want to draft players who play the style we like to play. That is fast and with the puck."
Who among the top players in the draft fit that description?
"They all fit," Kelley said with a laugh.
Well, that helps.
Kelley, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman and their trusted staffs soon will gather in Dallas to finalize their draft board and then, on June 22, will make the team's first top-10 selection since drafting Patrick Kane first overall in 2007. The Kane pick ended a four-year stretch in which the Hawks' lowest pick was seventh overall. They haven't drafted higher than No. 18 since then.
This is not where the Hawks want to be, but after a worrisome 2017-18 season that left them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2008, this is where they are. If they had to pick a year to end up with a high draft pick, this seems a very good one to do it. The draft appears to be deep enough that no matter whom the Hawks take with their top pick - regardless of the position - they should come away with an exciting prospect.
While the Hawks are in search of a top-four defenseman for the upcoming season, that pressing need isn't the guiding force for the player they will select at No. 8.
"On the scouting side of it, it's really (to draft) the player you believe is going to have the most impact on the team in the future," Kelley said. "You can't put a timeline on that."
The top two picks of the draft appear to be locked in, with the Sabres taking Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall and the Hurricanes following with Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov. There's slightly less certainty the Canadiens will take forward Filip Zadina with the third pick, but even if they don't there's almost no chance he would fall to the Blackhawks.
The next 10 to 12 options consist mainly of dynamic, smooth-skating defensemen and slick-shooting wingers who have a knack for putting the puck in the net. Wingers Brady Tkachuk and Oliver Wahlstrom could be available when the Hawks pick, as could defensemen Evan Bouchard, Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist.
But the player whose stock has risen perhaps the most in recent months is Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who won't turn 18 until next month but had 10 goals and 19 assists in 57 games last season in Finland's top league.
"Watching (Kotkaniemi) play with the men and then at the Under-18 world championships, his game didn't change no matter who he was playing with," Kelley said. "For a centerman he just has a great presence out there."
Having a high pick after years of drafting near the bottom of the first round hasn't changed Kelley's process, even though he's spending more time this year trying to determine what the seven teams picking ahead of the Hawks will do.
"Every year I'm a firm believer in you have to know what's going to happen at the top of the draft," he said. "Because that determines what happens right through. At the same time we're running through scenarios on the eighth pick we're also running through scenarios on that 27th pick."
The 27th pick, acquired from the Predators in the Ryan Hartman trade, is more in line with where the Hawks have picked over the last decade. What they did last year with the 26th pick could serve as a guide to what they do with it this year. As last year's draft developed, it became clear their target, Finnish defenseman Henri Jokiharju, would be available at No. 26.
The Stars came to them with an offer for the pick and, after the Hawks were assured the Stars were seeking a goalie and concluded the other two teams that would pick in front of them were not likely to take a defenseman, a deal was struck. The Hawks dropped down to No. 29 and still got Jokiharju, along with last year's 70th overall selection.
The Hawks are without a second-round pick, the result of a 2016 trade with the Canadiens. However, they do hold two third-rounders including their own, the 69th, and the 87th, acquired from the Capitals in the Michal Kempny trade.
2018 NHL draft
American Airlines Center, Dallas
Friday: Round 1, 6:30 p.m., NBCSN
Saturday: Rounds 2-7, 10 a.m., NHL Network
Round 1: Nos. 7, 27
Round 3: Nos. 69, 87
Round 4: No. 120
Round 5: No. 142
Round 6: No. 162
Round 7: No. 193
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