Blackhawks draft strategy: New amateur scouting director Mike Doneghey lays out his plans

Doneghey, who has replaced Mark Kelley as the head of the department, has told his staff to “buckle down and not leave any stone unturned” with five important second- and third-round picks coming up.

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The Blackhawks selected Kirby Dach with the first pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, the last time it was held in-person.

For the first time since 2019, the NHL draft will be back in-person next month in Montreal — but the Blackhawks won’t have a first-round pick to work with.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images file photo

In his first draft as the Blackhawks’ amateur scouting director, Mike Doneghey won’t have a first-round pick.

But he does have two second-round and three third-round selections. That’s five picks between 38th and 94th overall.

And he knows that if the Hawks can strike gold on a couple of those, it’ll make a major difference in their rebuild.

“[When] you look at a team like Carolina, three of their best players — Sebastian Aho, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin — were second-, third- and fourth-round picks,” Doneghey said this week. “So the players are there. You just have to [find them].

“My advice to the guys is, ‘Let’s buckle down and not leave any stone unturned.’ Because there are players historically that come out of that portion of the draft and make an impact for your team.”

Trend to reverse

The Hawks’ failures to identify those later-round gems during the latter half of former general manager Stan Bowman’s and former amateur scouting director Mark Kelley’s tenures is part of why GM Kyle Davidson promoted Doneghey into his role in March.

The scouting department regularly conducts redrafting exercises four or five years after a draft to evaluate, as Doneghey explained, which “guys we’ve hit on, guys we’ve missed on, why we’ve hit, why we’ve missed, so on and so forth.”

And they can’t be thrilled with their findings.

From 2012 to 2018, the Hawks drafted 53 players in the second round or later. Only 11 have made the NHL. Only five have played in more than 100 NHL games: Alex DeBrincat (the lone flash of brilliance in the group), Philipp Kurashev, John Hayden, Tyler Motte and Vinnie Hinostroza.

The Hawks’ 21% success rate on picks making the NHL pales in comparison to the league average of 38%. So does their 100-game success rate of 9% to the league average of 15%.

The second round has been a particular weak spot. Only three of their seven second-round picks in that span have made the NHL. Chad Krys, Artur Kayumov, Graham Knott and Dillon Fournier failed to do so; DeBrincat, Ian Mitchell and Carl Dahlstrom are the only players who did.

That equates to a 43% success rate on second-round picks making the NHL and a 14% success rate on them playing 100 games (only DeBrincat has so far). The NHL averages are far higher: 65% and 32%, respectively.

The Hawks hope a new vision will lead to better results this summer and beyond.

Changing structure

Doneghey reports to Davidson and new associate GMs Norm Maciver and Jeff Greenberg. Beneath Doneghey is a staff of 10 amateur scouts (and two support personnel) whom he’d like to give more defined roles.

“We’ve had a history of having a lot of guys cross over [between regions],” Doneghey said. “I would like to have a department where the scouts are more regionalized and know their own area, and then have two or three crossover scouts throughout the world — including myself — that are going into each region, looking at the top players and coming up with a consensus.”

That will involve changing the roles and titles of some scouts, but those changes won’t be made until after the draft July 7-8.

In the meantime, Doneghey, Davidson, Maciver, Greenberg, scouting manager Hudson Chodos and the four head regional scouts — Jim McKellar (Eastern Canada), Darrell May (Western Canada), Rob Facca (United States) and Niklas Blomgren (Europe) — all attended the NHL Scouting Combine last week in Buffalo. The full department will unite for the first time since before the pandemic at the draft in Montreal.

“It’s going to be dynamite,” Doneghey said. “I’m looking forward to seeing everybody, and I’m sure they’re looking forward to seeing each other.

“[But despite] what we’ve gone through as scouts in the NHL, as far as watching video and having video meetings with your staff, it has been worse for these kids because they’ve had to do it for [everything]. One player that we interviewed [at the combine] didn’t play hockey all of last year. The last two years haven’t been great for anybody, but more so the players because their development has been skewed a little bit.”

That lost development time makes it extra difficult to evaluate the 17- and 18-year-olds who make up the draft class this year. That uncertainty is why Doneghey doesn’t necessarily agree with the popular sentiment that the class is weaker than usual.

“I don’t know how you can judge that,” he said.

This year’s plan

It’s nearly impossible to forecast from afar which players the Hawks will target because they’re so far down the order. Even internally, Doneghey doesn’t have much clearer of an idea because so many variables remain in play.

“The only team who gets the player they want is No. 1,” he said. “After that, you have to go off of the team in front of you. You keep your list always up-to-date [with] moving parts.”

Nonetheless, Davidson has made it clear publicly that he wants the team he builds to emphasize speed and skating.

“[We] want to play really fast, as fast as you can,” Doneghey said Davidson told him.

Given the imbalance in the Hawks’ prospect pool, with plenty of potential NHL-caliber defensemen and goaltenders but very few promising forwards outside of Lukas Reichel, drafting more forwards also will be a priority.

The biggest objective, though, is to hit on more picks than in years past — regardless of the chosen prospects’ position and skills.

“The goal for me is to not take for granted those five [second- and third-round] picks,” Doneghey said. “Just because they’re not labeled with a first-round pick doesn’t mean they’re not going to play.”

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