Blackhawks again opt for speed and skill over size and strength at NHL Draft
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DALLAS — Two weeks removed from a Stanley Cup Final that featured two throwback teams with size, strength and snarl, the Blackhawks continued their recent trend of opting for skill over size and speed over brawn.
The Hawks’ first four picks in the NHL Draft were 5-11 or shorter. Their first five picks in the 2017 draft were 5-11 or shorter. Heck, their first pick in the 2016 draft was 5-9 Alex DeBrincat.
The Capitals and Golden Knights might have bucked the trend with their more physically aggressive style of play, but Hawks general manager Stan Bowman and director of scouting Mark Kelley still see the NHL getting smaller and faster, now and in the future.
‘‘The way it was probably 10 years ago was different,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘There were a lot more bigger players drafted. Now it’s more about the speed, skill, quickness, playmaking, puck skills. It’s a generalization, but generally the smaller players tend to have the better skills. So you can’t have all of one thing, but the league is obviously trending that way, and we don’t have an aversion to [smaller players] by any means.’’
That goes for defensemen, too. Once the realm of hulking players with long reaches and nasty dispositions, quicker blue-liners are becoming all the rage, including the Hawks’ two first-round picks — 5-11 Adam Boqvist and 5-11 Nicolas Beaudin. Big-bodied types, such as Brent Seabrook, are becoming less and less common, if not less and less necessary.
‘‘The philosophy has changed,’’ Kelley said. ‘‘The fact that the defenseman has to get back quick and has to be able to move the puck quick, I think it’s a product of the game. . . .
‘‘The physicality is always nice, but the game is getting so fast that sometimes that physicality is not there. There’s six defensemen. You can still have physicality back there, [but] somebody has to be able to move the puck.’’
Centers of attention
The Hawks focused on forwards on the second day of the draft, selecting five of them and a goalie. Their first pick of the day, early in the third round, was Jake Wise, a playmaking two-way center from the U.S. development program.
‘‘I’m just a really reliable guy, and I think with the Blackhawks I can play in every situation,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s going to be really fun.’’
The Hawks picked a goalie for only the second time in the last four years. German-born Alexis Gravel, who has lived in Canada since he was 6, is a 6-3, 223-pounder with lots of potential. As is usually the case with goalies, however, he’s probably several years away from being NHL-ready.
Gravel was the third-ranked North American goalie, according to NHL Central Scouting.
‘‘It’s probably the best day of my life,’’ he said. ‘‘I just look down, and there’s a Chicago Blackhawks logo on the jersey. It feels amazing. It’s unreal.’’