Blackhawks drawn to 1st-round pick Nolan Allan by the ‘subtleties of his game’

Allan’s performance with Canada at the under-18 world championship impressed Hawks general manager Stan Bowman and scouting director Mark Kelley.

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Prince Albert Raiders defenseman Nolan Allan was picked by the Blackhawks in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Keith Hershmiller/WHL

In May, new Blackhawks prospect Nolan Allan became the fourth Prince Albert Raiders player to win an under-18 world championship with Canada.

The group also includes Josh Morrissey, the Jets’ No. 1 defenseman this past season, and two career minor-leaguers. One of those minor-leaguers is a man perhaps slightly familiar to the Blackhawks: Jeremy Colliton.

The list of coincidences goes on. Colliton’s Canadian team captured its U-18 gold medal on April 18, 2003 — 10 days before Allan was born. And when Allan’s team ended Canada’s eight-year U-18 gold-medal drought this summer, it was with Hawks general manager Stan Bowman watching from the stands.

Allan’s performance in the tournament and the championship game in particular impressed -Bowman so much that, after trading down to the 32nd pick in the NHL Draft on Friday, he made the young defenseman the Hawks’ first-round pick.

“Nolan was fantastic in that tournament,” Bowman said. “You notice when Nolan Allan’s on the ice. He’s got the size, the skating and the physicality. He was a big workhorse for the Canadian team. He certainly caught my eye watching that game.”

For Allan, who — along with most draft pundits — didn’t expect to go in the first round, it was a minor shock when he popped up in the waning minutes of Sportsnet’s broadcast.

His family’s celebration was probably loud enough to wake up all 1,025 residents in his hometown of Davidson, Saskatchewan, a farming area best known for supposedly containing the world’s largest coffee pot.

“The Blackhawks were a team I talked to probably one of the most out of the other teams,” Allan said Friday. “I had a feeling there, [but] I didn’t really know when. I was thinking maybe second round, somewhere in there. But I was -really excited to hear my name called tonight.”

Davidson, in another odd -coincidence, is the hometown of Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb. Allan mentioned watching McNabb as a major influence on him growing up, and that’s evident in his game.

Scouting reports describe Allan as an extremely defensive defenseman, but those are based on limited samples. The pandemic-shortened Canadian junior hockey season meant Allan got in 16 games, in which he tallied two points, with Prince Albert in 2020-21.

At the under-18s, in which Allan was paired with Brandt Clarke, the Kings’ eighth overall pick, Hawks scouting director Mark Kelley saw more versatility in Allan’s skills.

“It’s the subtleties of his game: He’s physical, blocks shots, kills penalties, plays a lot of hard minutes,” Kelley said. “He’s not a flashy player, but yet he’s very mobile [and makes a] very safe first pass. He can handle a puck, but his decision-making when he has the puck is very efficient.”

Those puck-moving abilities are clearly priorities for Allan moving forward, too.

“I’ve got that foundation of being a physical, stay-at-home defender and playing on the penalty kill and keeping pucks out of the net,” he said. “So the next step would be to add another element to my game and work on the offensive side, whether it be puck skills, [my] shot or jumping into the play.”

He plans to return to the Raiders for the hopefully back-to-normal 2021-22 Western Hockey League season. That should give him plenty of time to improve and prepare to potentially sign his NHL entry-level contract next summer.

Although Allan doesn’t have a “set timeline” in mind for his career progression, the Hawks will be increasingly turning their attention toward their next generation of defensive prospects — and picture Allan as a crucial part of that generation — after Adam Boqvist’s departure from the organization.

NOTE: Former Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson retired Sunday, Coyotes reporter Craig Morgan reported. A defensive defenseman and shot-blocking wizard who contributed significantly to all three Hawks Cup titles in the 2010s, the 34-year-old Swede had dealt with numerous injuries with the Coyotes in recent seasons and was set to be a free agent.

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