For the second consecutive year, the Blackhawks’ amateur-scouting team has dealt with countless odd challenges while preparing for the 2021 NHL Draft.
The postponement of the 2020 draft to October left them fewer months to scout the 2021 prospects, mostly via video. Canadian junior leagues held few to no games, and all prospect interviews were conducted over Zoom. The draft Friday and Saturday will be conducted virtually, with the Hawks gathered at another makeshift war room at Fifth Third Arena.
But scouting director Mark Kelley is confident as the Hawks make their final preparations for the first round Friday (7 p.m., ESPN2) and second through seventh rounds Saturday (10 a.m., NHL Network).
“It’s almost been so strange that it feels like normal,” Kelley said Monday. “What we’re always trying to find out is how many players we think can affect a franchise. . . . Once we get through that and we look at the first round, this draft mirrors most every other draft.”
The Hawks officially hold the 12th pick, but it’ll function as the 11th because the Coyotes’ actual 11th pick is forfeited. They also own two second-round picks (44th and 62nd), two fourth-round picks (105th and 108th), one sixth-round pick (172nd) and two seventh-round picks (204th and 216th).
Draft experts have described a growing consensus on the top nine skaters and top two goalies, but Kelley noted ‘‘not everyone is seeing the draft the way it’s being put in print.’’ He thinks it’s more like a consensus top eight overall players.
Either way, the Hawks likely will choose from among the best players in the second tier.
“It’s a little bit like last year at 17th,” he said. “We’re going to need a little bit of help from other teams to look at [our options] differently. [But] anytime you’re picking at 11th, you’re excited about the quality of player that’s going to be evaluated. Right now, we’re trying to get a sense for what we feel the teams ahead of us are going to do, and we’re getting close on that.”
The two goalies, Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa, are interesting because both are expected to land around 11th. The Hawks picked goalie Drew Commesso in the second round last year, but that doesn’t rule this possibility out.
Cossa’s 17-1-1 record and .941 save percentage in Canadian juniors last season “gets your attention,” Kelley said. And the Hawks have a “deeper history” of scouting Wallstedt, who was 12-10-0 with a .907 save percentage in the far tougher Swedish league — a “very, very good year,” Kelley said.
Among available forwards, Matthew Coronato, Cole Sillinger and Chaz Lucius long have been considered the Hawks’ most likely picks — unless someone such as Kent Johnson falls on draft day.
Kelley said he’s impressed by “how much better [Coronato] got as the year went on,” how Sillinger can “shoot the puck as well as anyone” and how Lucius “scored at a rate that would rival anyone that has gone through” the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Russian center Fyodor Svechkov’s stock has risen sharply of late, however, after a dominant performance (10 points in seven games) at the under-18 championships. He might be on the Hawks’ radar now, too. Kelley said Svechkov’s play is “so solid on both ends of the ice.”
Among defensemen, there’s a perceived gap between the top four (all of whom should go among the top eight) and the next tier, but Kelley said the “falloff isn’t far.”
Corson Ceulemans and Carson Lambos sit atop that next tier. Kelley likes Ceulemans’ “physical presence,” but the Hawks know Lambos — a “mobile defenseman that can get up and down the ice” — better because he played in their Finnish scout’s hometown.
Less likely possibilities with the 11th pick include forwards Brennan Othmann, Fabian Lysell, Isak Rosen, Xavier Bourgault, Zachary Bolduc, Aatu Raty and Nikita Chibrikov and defenseman Daniil Chayka.
NOTE: The Hawks announced their preseason schedule. It features home games against the Red Wings on Sept. 29, Blues on Oct. 1 and Wild on Oct. 9 and road games against the Blues (in Kansas City) on Oct. 2, Red Wings on Oct. 4 and Wild on Oct. 7.