As the NHL trade deadline approached last week, former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner clearly knew he was likely to be dealt. It was obvious in his demeanor and public comments, not to mention all over the internet.
Slava Demin, a sophomore defenseman at the University of Denver and a fourth-round draft pick of the Golden Knights in 2018, didn’t have the same luxury of anticipation.
So when reports surfaced of Lehner’s trade to the Knights and Demin suddenly saw his name splashed all over viral tweets — he, goalie Malcolm Subban and a second-round pick were going to the Hawks — it came as a shock.
‘‘I didn’t really know how to react,’’ Demin said. ‘‘[It was the] first time I’ve ever been traded.’’
For the last two years, Demin’s focus has been solely on Denver, which is ranked No. 6 in the country with two games left in its regular season. He attended the Knights’ prospect-development camp last summer but hadn’t looked ahead much to professional hockey, which remains a year or two away for him.
Then he suddenly found himself a notable component of one of the NHL’s biggest off-ice news days. But considering the Hawks were the team acquiring him, he wasn’t about to complain.
‘‘I was a big Chicago fan growing up, watching guys like Duncan Keith,’’ he said. ‘‘That was one of the teams that I wanted to go to [in the 2018 draft], and when it didn’t happen, I was a little surprised.
‘‘But you don’t really control that, just like I couldn’t control the trade. But when things like this happen, it’s very exciting.’’
On the night of the trade, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said Demin was a player the team had considered drafting and one they have kept a close eye on while scouting Denver defensive teammate Ian Mitchell, who is considered their No. 1 prospect and is a near-certain NHL player next season.
Now Demin is next in line, part of an increasingly defined pipeline from Denver to Chicago.
Defenseman Blake Hillman made that same jump in 2017 (though he didn’t stick in the Hawks’ organization), and Denver coach David Carle said Demin — at 6-2 and 194 pounds — fits the Hillman mold more closely than the Mitchell mold (5-11, 179 pounds).
‘‘Slava’s got real good size, [and] he’s got a lot of great physical qualities,’’ Carle said. ‘‘He’s arguably the smoothest and most natural skater on our team. He can advance pucks, he’s a transitional defenseman and he’s a real good prospect.’’
That size and skating ability has helped Demin develop quickly, especially in the defensive zone. His stock definitely has risen in the last two years, and that’s likely part of the reason the Hawks made him an integral part of the Lehner deal.
Still, Demin has work to do offensively, and his box-score production has not stood out in college (six goals, 17 assists in 73 games so far). He admitted this season in particular has been a ‘‘learning process.’’
‘‘A lot of it has just been struggling sometimes mentally in games and just being able to work through that stuff,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s important to face those lows and come out with a high.’’
The high-profile trade surely delivered a confidence boost, though, and Demin now will be able to turn to Mitchell for advice.
‘‘[Demin is] a player that, when people get to know him, they’re going to realize why we’re excited to add him to our group,’’ Bowman said.