SUNRISE, Fla. —The Chicago area has seen a tremendous rise in youth hockey during the Blackhawks’ resurgence, and it again was noticeable at the NHL Draft. Wayne-native Christian Fischer was taken at No. 32 overall by the Arizona Coyotes, and the Hawks took two players with Chicago ties — third-round pick and Buffalo-native defenseman Dennis Gilbert played for the USHL’s Chicago Steel this past season, and sixth-round pick Roy Radke is a winger from Geneva.
The Hawks made West Dundee’s Ryan Hartman their first-round pick in 2013, and he reached the NHL this past season.
“It says a lot about the Chicago area that kids are coming in to play hockey, and at the same time, kids are being developed [here] and going somewhere else to play hockey,” Hawks director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said. “If you look at it, we probably didn’t take the most kids from Chicago in the draft.”
Both Fischer and Gilbert will play at Notre Dame. In fact, they live across the hall from each other in South Bend.
“The youth programs have taken off [in Chicago] tremendously and I think a lot is due to the Blackhawks,” Fischer said. “The kids go to the games and they see the whole deal there and they just get excited and they want to play. The youth programs have taken off. There are four travel teams there that are producing top talent every year, and there’s a lot of guys coming into the league now from Chicago — the Ryan Hartmans, those type of players from Chicago-based programs. So I think the Hawks have a lot to do with that.”
Gilbert, a self-described puck-moving defenseman who has occasionally skated with Patrick Kane back in Buffalo in the past, got a taste of life in Chicago with the Steel, with whom he had four goals and 23 assists in 59 games. Radke, who had nine goals and nine assists for Barrie in the OHL last season after two strong seasons at Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep, is a big Hawks fan.
“It’s a dream come true, obviously, to get draft by any team,” Gilbert said. “But being in Chicago last year and experiencing the city and the area and really getting acclimated with the area makes it that much more special. I’m just very excited to be a Blackhawk.”
Knott a good pick
Duncan Keith was the 54th pick in the 2002 NHL Draft. Graham Knott was the 54th pick in the 2015 draft. Good luck living up to that one, kid.
“That’s definitely going to be tough,” Knott said with a smile after the Hawks selected him in the second round. “But hopefully, I can make a name for myself.”
Knott, a 6-3, 180-pound left wing out of Ontario, posted 25 goals and 18 assists in 59 games with Niagara of the OHL last season, where he’ll return in the fall. Kelly said the Hawks were “very, very high” on him, and that he was one of their top targets coming into the draft.
Knott said he modeled his game after New Jersey’s Adam Henrique, but given his new team, added that he plays like Brandon Saad, too.
“I’m a two-way forward,” he said. “I’m good in my own zone, chip in the offense, and I can throw my weight around a little bit.”
The Hawks’ fourth-round pick, 6-foot defenseman Ryan Shea, will play at Northeastern next season. The Hawks drafted three college-bound kids last season, and four in 2013.
“I think college hockey’s a great developmental league,” Gilbert said. “The competition is second to none, in my opinion, and it makes the jump a lot easier because you’re playing against older guys, grown men that are 25 years old.”
In other picks, the Hawks chose 6-5, 219-pound power forward Radovan Bondra of Slovakia in the fifth round, 6-1, 185-pound Finnish defenseman Joni Tuulola in the sixth round, and 6-foot Swedish forward John Dahlstrom with the last pick of the draft (he was still in the arena), in the seventh round. The Hawks brought both Bondra and Dahlstrom to Chicago for Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.