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Blackhawks draft primer: Turcotte, Byram, several wild cards in play for No. 3 pick

Trading down also remains a slight possibility. And even after the drama subsides, five more picks must be made in the later rounds.

Defenseman Bowen Byram (left) and center Alex Turcotte (right) have clearly become friends during the draft lead-up. But only one can go third overall Friday night.

The Blackhawks hold the No. 3 overall pick in the NHL draft.

That sentence has been written, in various wordings, infinite times over the past two months. But the next 24 hours will finally mark its death bed.

Come Friday night, sometime between 7 and 8 p.m. CT, Chicago will at last be able to identify the frontman of its next hockey generation.

Here’s everything Hawks fans should know about this NHL draft weekend.

Candidates for third overall

If the Blackhawks want a defenseman, the choice is clearly Bowen Byram.

Defensemen are rarely NHL-ready when drafted, but Byram might be one of the few exceptions: he’s already played two full seasons for Vancouver of the Western Hockey League, scoring an absurd 71 points from the blue line this past campaign, and his game is far beyond that of a typical 18-year-old prospect.

Conversely, if the Hawks want a forward — a decision that has already been made, just not publicly disclosed — the options are more abundant, but Alex Turcotte is the clear frontrunner.

Although the University of Wisconsin-bound center is at least a year away from playing professionally, he’s just as well-rounded as Byram and benefits from the fact that forward prospects are much easier to project than their defensive counterparts.

“[Turcotte] has an ability to read the play, go out there, and make the right decisions and execute,” said Dan Marr, the NHL’s director of central scouting, at the combine. “There’s a little bit of deceptiveness there that’s hard to defend against.”

Other forwards with outside chances of leaving Friday sporting a Hawks hat include flashy playmaker Trevor Zegras, a teammate of Turcotte in the U.S. National Team Development Program, and Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach, two common foes of Byram in the WHL.

“[Dylan] uses his body well to get to the net, and then when he’s there, he has the hands and the smarts to put the puck in the back of the net,” Byram said of Cozens.

Big-framed Dylan Cozens could be a dark horse for the Hawks’ No. 3 selection.

Trading down unlikely, yet possible

For all of the annual speculation, NHL teams rarely part with top-four picks: not one has been dealt during draft month since before the 2004-05 lockout, per CapFriendly.

If that streak is to be broken, 2019 might be the year. A huge cluster of second-tier prospects begins with the No. 3 pick and stretches into the early teens, so the difference in value between the Hawks’ pick and, say, the host Canucks’ 10th overall pick is less than usual.

That would theoretically increase the probability of a trade, but even so, the odds remain low.

“If someone made an appealing offer, then we’d have to consider it, but that hasn’t happened yet,” general manager Stan Bowman said Wednesday. “A team has to want to put together a really appealing package to move up.”

Bowman in 2016. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Stan Bowman has a busy weekend ahead of him, saying Wednesday that he’s involved in numerous trade discussions.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Saturday picks matter, too

The Hawks’ scheduled six selections this weekend will mark, barring trades, their fewest in a single draft since 1971.

Nonetheless, trades are likely: the franchise has made at least one draft-weekend exchange for six consecutive years, even though some were mere pick swaps.

And the second-round pick, No. 43 overall, offers an opportunity to snap up a first-round leftover with falling stock but high upside. Only once since 2011 have the Hawks owned such an early second-round pick — and when they did in 2016, they chose Alex DeBrincat.

Forwards Samuel Poulin, Jamieson Rees, Connor McMichael, Egor Afanasyev, Robert Mastrosimone and John Beecher, plus defensemen Matthew Robertson, Ryan Johnson and Tobias Bjornfot, are among those projected to fall to the first half of the second round.