Blues Blackhawks Hockey

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton, center, talks to his team during the third period of Wednesday night's game against the Blues in Chicago. The Blackhawks won, 1-0, giving Colliton his first victory as Chicago's coach. 

A lot changed for the Blackhawks when they moved up nine spots in the draft lottery to grab the No. 3 pick in the June NHL draft.

But for Mark Kelley, the Hawks vice president of amateur scouting, things didn't change all that much.

"In the week before Christmas if you look at where we were in the standings, picking where we are right now was a reality," Kelley said. "We've been diligent all year and even when we were battling for a playoff spot we had a lot of this groundwork done."

Even with such a high pick and the likelihood that the consensus top two picks, American center Jack Hughes and Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko, will be gone by the time the Hawks make their selection, Kelley isn't laying his cards on the table.

He won't even agree that the Devils, who choose first, and the Rangers, who hold the second pick, will take Hughes and Kakko.

"You can say those first two players are gone," Kelley said. "I can't. It's like if we had finished (with the) first or second (pick). I can't tell you we would be looking at a pool of two players."

The reality, however, is that Hughes and Kakko won't be available and the Hawks will be getting their top choice from a pool of seven or eight players that includes Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin, Canadian center Kirby Dach and Canadian defenseman Bowen Byram.

Podkolzin is under contract to his Russian team for two more years, so the Hawks might have to wait for him to come to the NHL if they draft him. With a need to get back to the playoffs and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews not getting any younger, would they really wait for Podkolzin?

"If he's the guy, he's the guy," Kelley said. "Absolutely."

Over the next two months, Kelley and his staff will crisscross the globe to continue scouting the players they've identified as being worthy of the third pick. It helps considerably that many of the top prospects will be competing in the U18 World Championships, which begin next week in France and Hungary.

The Hawks will be able to meet with prospects at the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo from May 29 to June 3, and afterward Kelley said a few players will be brought to Chicago to visit with team staff, including strength coach Paul Goodman.

"I would say that a week going into the draft we'd have a pretty good idea (of who we want)," Kelley said. "At that point most of the information would be in and would be dissected."

In other words, the Hawks don't know who they're taking yet. And neither does anyone else.

"I respect all these people who have gone out there and done their work and put these kind of projections and lists together," Kelley said. "But those lists you're seeing in the media, they're being built by people not associated with an NHL team or that are building an NHL team."

Kelley said he doesn't feel any added pressure now that the Hawks will be making their highest pick since drafting Patrick Kane No. 1 in 2007. But he knows getting this pick right -- or wrong -- can have a huge impact on the health of the franchise.

"We're close to being right back in it," Kelley said. "The player that we're looking to get gives us a tremendous opportunity to add to what we have and ... not just add a part but somebody we feel in the years can be a really significant part."

Quick takes

Kelley on prospects the Hawks could take with the No. 3 pick:

Bowen Byram, defenseman, Vancouver (Western Hockey League): "He is a very opportunistic defenseman. Great skater, great hands. He creates offense. Great transition game, pushes the pace."

Peyton Krebs, center, Kootenay (Western Hockey League): "He has a great skill set. He has a great motor, a great compete level. Had a tough year because he played on the Kootenay Ice, the team wasn't very good. Also the team is relocating to Winnipeg, so there was a cloud kind of over them. You talk about a player that was able to stay focused. He had a fantastic year with all of the obstacles he faced. Showed what kind of character he has."

Dylan Cozens, center, Lethbridge (Western Hockey League): "He is a big, powerful centerman. Great skater, great competitor. Two-way game. You can find him making plays coming into the zone, you can find him battling and scoring goals right in the paint, right in the grease."

Kirby Dach, center, Saskatoon (Western Hockey League): "Great set of hands, very, very smart, aware hockey player. With the puck and without the puck, very, very easy to find and notice on the ice."

Vasili Podkolzin, right wing, SKA St. Petersburg (Kontinental Hockey League): "He fits more to that whole power forward-type thing. Great skill set to go with a powerful skater. He's physically strong, plays a lot of the game inside the dots."

Alex Turcotte, center, U.S. National Development Team: "A little bit like Krebs. Alex was hurt earlier in the year and he's out right now with an illness. But what you'll really like about Alex is the way he competes. A 200-foot game, you just know what you're going to get. You can see him playing with your top line, you can put him out there at the end of the game to shut down your top center."

Trevor Zegras, center, U.S. National Development Team: "Great skater, great vision. Makes plays. He can play fast, he makes fast plays. But a really exciting player."


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