By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) On Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia, the NHL held its annual entry draft. All told, the Blackhawks selected nine players. While it'd be easy for me to pretend that I know something about these prospects, I don't. Well, at least I didn't until I spoke with HockeyProspect.com scout Sean White, who took some time to answer a couple of questions and offer brief capsules of each of the Blackhawks' draft picks.
Here is my brief Q-and-A with Sean, followed by his great synopses of each player.
JZ: The Hawks took seven NCAA players. What has become the advantage of drafting NCAA players over junior players? Is it a belief they are more ready and mature, or is it more a sign that the NCAA game is improving?
SW: It's is a combination of the two. The Hawks have shown a tendency in recent years to lean more toward college-bound players, and I think it's for a couple of reasons. One, as well as they're built and with so few NHL roster spots available, they don't need drafted players to have to step in and make the roster right away. They seem to be somewhat adhering to the Detroit model of letting players develop a long time before bringing them up to the big club, and the college game allows for that more, especially if players play their full four years. They then enter the pro ranks as 21/22-year-olds and having played against older, more mature competition and, in theory, are more mature themselves.
At the same time, some end up being good enough to leave school early, and if that's the case, it's a win-win for the organization. There's no right or wrong answer, because the CHL (WHL, OHL, QMJHL) produce more NHL players than anyone and tends to have more of the higher-end talent, but there are more and more quality and high-end USHL and Canadian Tier II Junior A college-bound players every year, so it's really just a matter of what an organization is looking for. Then you take the U.S. national program players into consideration, many of who go the NCAA route. That creates a whole other pool of high end NCAA-bound players. I will say, it is very surprising the Blackhawks did not draft a single CHL player this year. That's extremely rare for a team to not take even one player from one of those three leagues.
Quickly, to the second part of that, NCAA hockey itself has gotten much better over the years, as well. It's a much better quality of hockey now than it was even 10 years ago. That's also a factor in seeing more players not only drafted who are bound for NCAA programs, but players currently playing for one.
JZ: This draft featured 65 U.S. players being selected. That's the most since 1991. What do you attribute that to? Are more kids playing hockey in the United State? Has the coaching gotten better?
SW: It starts with USA Hockey-registered players; there are more kids playing hockey in the U.S. than ever in history. That alone increases your odds of producing more NHL-caliber players, just taking the math into consideration. You're also seeing kids get drafted from "non-traditional" markets, or at least what used to be, pretty regularly now. Players are coming out of California regularly, and other places like Texas and Arizona. Add to that the year-round nature of the sport now with training and specialized camps in the offseason, more kids playing the game and the continued growth and evolution of the U.S. national team development program in Ann Arbor, Mich., you're seeing more and more high quality American prospects being cranked out every year, and that trend is going to continue upward.
This past season's group of 1997 birth year players completely dominated international competition like has never been done before, lead by forward Jack Eichel, who is battling the OHL's Connor McDavid for the first overall pick in next year's draft. As it stands today, of the top 10 picks currently predicted to be taken in the 2015 NHL Draft, as many as five could be American-born. Now a lot can happen in a year, but it just goes to show the caliber of talent and the quantity of it that's coming down the pipeline from the US. Noah Hanifin is another name from that bunch people should remember. He will likely go third overall and may be a generational talent on defense.
Now, here's scouting reports from White on the players the Blackhawks drafted over the weeked.
Round 1, No. 20: Nick Schmaltz
Center, Green Bay (USHL), 5-foot-11, 172 pounds
High-end offensive skill and skating ability. World class puck handler and playmaker with the ability to find the back of the net himself. He doesn't have great size, but he's got a frame that can fill out, and he's really strong on his skates. Plus he's just so quick and elusive, he's hard to target. Really exciting, dynamic offensive player but needs to shore things up defensively and mature a bit as a complete player, which he will have time to do at the University of North Dakota. He'll likely need at least a couple of years there to develop his game but is a very exciting player with a high ceiling. As talented a player as there was in this draft.
Round 3, No. 83: Matt Iacopelli
Right wing, Muskegon (USHL), 6-foot-2, 192 pounds
He was taken higher than most expected, but he could be a home run pick if he works out. A bit of a later bloomer, he's really skilled offensively, skates well, has good size and has the best shot in the USHL. Absolute rocket, be it on the wrist shot or slap shot. Played the point on the power play for Muskegon last year, and he can let it fly from there. Pure goal scorer, but there's not a lot else to his game right now. I believe he's either going to make it as a top-six offensive, goal-scoring type who makes up for other areas he lacks or he's not going to make it at all. There's really very little in-between with him in that regard, in my opinion.
Round 3, No. 88: Beau Starrett
Left wing, South Shore (USPHL), 6-foot-5, 195 pounds
Big bodied, power-forward type who can contribute some offensively, but more on account of his size and ability to use his body to open up space than his hands and puck-handling ability. Very much a big, muck-and-grind-it-out kind of player. Plays a strong game along the boards and in the corners and competes hard, plays physical. Doesn't have great speed and needs to improve his quickness. He's playing for Cornell this fall.
Round 4, No. 98: Frederik Olofsson
Left wing, Chicago (USHL), 6-foot-1 185 pounds
Really good pick by Stan Bowman and company. His older brother was drafted and signed by the Minnesota Wild this past April. Very good two-way player who plays a very mature, polished, pro-style game already. Plays the point on the power play but also gets penalty kill time. Can play in all situations. His game picked up offensively the latter half of this past season, and it should continue to going forward. He has excellent hands and vision. Great playmaking ability and can snipe in his own right. He's heading to Colorado College this fall, but he could be a guy that's only in college for a couple of seasons before making the jump to pros.
Round 5, No. 141: Luc Snuggerud
Defenseman, Omaha (USHL), 5-foot-11, 165 pounds
Snuggerud is a quick-skating, puck-moving type defenseman. Good offensive skill and rushes the puck well. Not very physical and smallish in stature. Played high school hockey in Minnesota for Eden Prairie High School, Nick Leddy's alma mater. Good skater with a good skill set but will need some time to further develop, which he'll do at the University of Nebraska-Omaha starting next fall.
Round 5, No. 148: Andreas Söderberg
Defenseman, Skelleftea Jr. (SWE), 6-fot-2, 200 pounds
Nice size and upside but is a longer-term project. Decent skater for his size but still raw overall. Still has a ways to g,o but the Blackhawks have a knack for identifying Swedish players and scout the region well, so his development will be interesting to monitor.
Round 6, No. 178: Dylan Sikura
Center, Aurora (OJHL), 5-foot-11, 150 pounds
At 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, Sikura has a lot of physical development to make along with the development of his game. He played for the Aurora Tigers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, a Tier II Junior A league not to be confused with the Ontario Hockey League. Shifty skater with good offensive skill, he will be playing for Northeastern University next season.
Round 6, No. 179: Ivan Nalimov
Goaltender, St. Petersburg 2 (RUS), 6-foot-5, 211 pounds
Big in the net at 6-foot-5, 211 pounds, Nalimov has consistency issues but so do a lot of young goaltenders. Had a decent showing at the World Junior Championships. He has expressed a desire to come over to North America to play and if he does, it's very much a worthwhile pick for the Blackhawks where they got him.
Round 7, No. 208: Jack Ramsey
Right wing, Penticton (BCHL), 6-foot-2, 172 pounds
Not a ton of info, other than that he's 6-foot-2, 172 pounds, and his dad, Mike, was on the 1980 US Olympic Team.
Thanks to Sean for his incredible content and for the time commitment he sacrificed for the readers of my work. Make sure to follow Sean on Twitter, and check out HockeyProspect.com for all your amateur hockey needs.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.
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