When the Blackhawks had the chance to start tanking for a draft pick, coach Jeremy Colliton dismissed that approach as ludicrous. He insisted they would go hard the rest of the season and “draft position will work itself out.”
It did so spectacularly in the lottery Tuesday night.
The Hawks were slotted 12th but jumped to the No. 3 spot — by far the most dramatic move among the lottery teams. It will be their highest selection since taking Patrick Kane first in 2007.
“You’re in a different pool of players there, no question,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “We were very optimistic we were gonna get a good player even if we were staying at No. 12, but this just is a game-changer.
“You don’t often get a chance to get these players that are in the top couple picks in the draft. That’s where the elite players usually come from.”
They went in with an 8.2 percent chance at getting a top-three. Last time they chose third, by the way, was 2006. They picked a kid named Jonathan Toews.
The Devils will pick first this year, followed by the Rangers. In another lucky break for the Hawks, the division-rival Avalanche slipped from the No. 1 lottery slot to the No. 4 pick. The Avalanche had an 18.2 percent shot at getting the top pick.
American center Jack Hughes and Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko are the consensus top picks.
The Hawks likeky will have their choice of winger Vasili Podkolzin, defenseman Bowen Byram, center Dylan Cozens and center Alex Turcotte, among others. The pick also could be a major trade asset as Bowman looks for aggressive roster upgrades this summer.
The Hawks won’t be scrambling to catch up on those top-tier prospects given that they were at the bottom of the NHL in December and scouted accordingly.
Rather than allow their season to sink so they could maximize the draft, the Hawks played to the end in hopes of grabbing the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
They put together a 23-12-4 record over three months and held off elimination until the final days of the regulation. Tanking was never on the table.
“I believe that’s the only way it works,” said Bowman, who added that he actually dreamed a few weeks ago they’d pick third. “You’ve gotta try to win the games. Our guys want to win, and we owe it to our fans to try to win as many games as we can.
“We pushed our team all year. We told them, don’t worry about the draft. Those things have a way of working themselves out. … It’s maybe poetic justice that it worked out that way.”
Bowman was in Toronto with other team personnel for the lottery, and the Hawks picked vice president of communications Adam Rogowin to be their witness for the actual lottery. Rogowin was sequestered, though, and Bowman did not find out where the team was picking until everyone else did on the television broadcast.
He was elated when he saw the Wild logo pop up for the No. 12 spot, signaling the Hawks were in the top three.
Pretty good luck for a guy who had given up on the concept after it failed him last year.
“I decided this year — no superstitions,” Bowman said. “We’re just coming in normal and taking it as it comes, and that ended up being the best good luck charm of all.”
The draft is in late June, and the Hawks have their own pick in the first, second, fourth and sixth rounds. They also have a fourth-rounder from the Bruins, a fifth from the Lightning and a seventh from the Ducks.
Aside from Toews, the Hawks picked third and drafted Terry Caffery (1966), Denis Savard (1980), Eddie Olczyk (1984) and Cam Barker (2004). Savard is a Hall of Famer and fourth in franchise history in goals.