Chicago to host 2017 NHL Draft

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The United Center will host the NCAA’s Frozen Four in 2017. The Blackhawks are likely headed to St. Louis for the 2017 Winter Classic. And now you can add the 2017 NHL Draft to the list.

“Chicago will be Hockeytown, USA,” mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday afternoon at a press conference announcing that next year’s draft will be held at the United Center on June 23-24, 2017.

Chicago already has been the center of the hockey universe — at least, in the United States — over the past several seasons, with the Hawks hosting three Stanley Cup finals, a Winter Classic and a Stadium Series game. While Hawks president John McDonough continues to work NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for a future All-Star game — “My ear’s always being bent by the Blackhawks organization,” Bettman said — the draft was a logical next step. Chicago has never hosted the draft, which has been rotating around the league since the 1980s.

Bettman said that when he heard that fact, he said. “Please go back and check. That can’t be possible.”

Unlike its NFL counterpart, the NHL draft is a low-key affair. It’s a massively significant weekend for the league, because homegrown talent is of the utmost importance in the salary-cap era (10 current Hawks were originally drafted by Chicago), and because all 30 general managers are under one roof mere days before the opening of free agency, which always leads to a frenzy of trades. But it usually doesn’t come with much fanfare beyond the draft itself.

The Hawks hope to change that, and make it a more “entertaining” and “innovative” experience, in McDonough’s words.

“We’l have the atrium open on the east side at that time, we have the areas around the building, plus I think we can do stuff around the city for the whole week,” owner Rocky Wirtz said. “You’ve never seen anything that John McDonough or Jay Blunk have done that have been low-key. I would suspect that they’ll do a very, very good job.”

Emanuel said the draft would be privately funded, with no burden on the taxpayers. And he said the event would be an ideal “soft-dollar” advertisement for the city of Chicago.

“It will be viewed around the world, and that’s advertising you can’t pay for,” Emanuel said. “From Canada to the Czech Republic, Finland to France, Switzerland to Sweden, people will be seeing the city of Chicago.”

That’s something hockey fans certainly have been getting used to in recent years.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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