All signs point to Patrick Kane, a right wing who can step into the lineup and play immediately.
The last few weeks have been easy for Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon.
With the first pick in Friday’s NHL draft, Tallon is in the catbird seat. He doesn’t have to worry about another team grabbing the player he wants.
The player he wants is Patrick Kane, a skilled right wing from Buffalo who will be able to step into the Hawks’ lineup and play right away.
Tallon, if only to make the teams following him squirm, won’t come out and say Kane’s his pick. He wouldn’t be against swapping the first and second selections with Philadelphia, because the Flyers are very interested in center Kyle Turris, from New Westminster, British Columbia.
“I have an idea of who I want to take,” Tallon said. “But it’ll be a staff consensus.”
There’s a leaguewide consensus that Kane, an 18-year-old whose only drawback is size, is the best player in the draft.
He’s not of the Lemieux-Ovechkin-Crosby pedigree, but those players come along once a decade on average. Instead, Kane, while just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, is the prototypical high draft pick, someone who can step in and improve his team’s fortunes.
On the record, Tallon said the Hawks would select either Kane, Turris or James vanRiemsdyk, a left wing from New Jersey, and that the final decision would be made after each player meets Thursday with team psychologist Jim Gary at the draft site in Columbus, Ohio.
In reality, those meetings, and chats between the Hawks’ scouting staff and the players, will be to confirm that Kane is their man. All signals point in that direction.
The most important is that Kane isn’t planning to go to college, and the others are. Turris will play at Wisconsin, vanRiemsdyk at New Hampshire. The Hawks, out of the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons over 10 years, need help now. Kane is an offensive player, and on a team that couldn’t find the net last season, his skills will be hard to pass up.
“Kane makes everyone around him better,” Tallon said. “If he can score 150 points, we’ll have somebody check for him.”
That, curiously, is precisely what Denis Savard was told to do when he was drafted third overall by the Hawks in the summer of 1980. Unaccountably bypassed by Montreal with the first pick in the draft, Savard filled the net and filled seats at Chicago Stadium that had been gathering dust for several years.
Like Savard, Kane is smaller than the average hockey player. Savard’s unmatchable skill was speed combined with elusiveness.
“He’s got good enough speed,” Tallon said of Kane.
If there’s a question about Kane aside from his size, it’s how much he benefited from having Sam Gagner, another likely high first rounder, playing on his line for London of the Ontario League. Kane led all three Canadian junior leagues in scoring with 145 points. Gagner had 118 points, fifth in the OHL. Most scouts believe they complemented each other.
Kane could find himself in a similar situation with the Hawks if he ends up on a line with center Jonathan Toews, the team’s first-round pick last year. Selected third overall, Toews signed with the Hawks last month.
Tallon already knows that Kane will get the maximum rookie contract, including an array of bonuses that will count against the Hawks’ salary structure. What he doesn’t know is how much owner Bill Wirtz will let him spend, no matter how much the league’s salary cap rises. The Wirtz directive will impact what Tallon will be allowed to do when the free-agent signing period begins July 1.
What will the Hawks do?
Unless general manager Dale Tallon changes his mind, the Blackhawks will pick one of these three players with the first pick in Friday’s NHL draft:
Right wing, 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, shoots left. Ranked second among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and second overall by the independent International Scouting Service.
Small by current NHL standards, Kane may have the skill to make his size a moot point. A splendid passer, with 83 assists for London of the Ontario League last season, he led all junior leagues in scoring with 145 points and starred for the U.S. in the World Juniors. A native of Buffalo, he wasn’t even on the first round projection lists of some teams until midseason, but kept on piling up points and standing up to bigger players with physical play. He isn’t expected to spend any time in the minors.
From the NHL scouting report: “Skilled playmaking forward with great hockey sense. ... High-end passing skill with excellent use of the saucer pass to move the puck. ... Able to fight through checks and protect the puck. ... Is not afraid to take the puck into traffic and is very elusive. ... Very good at anticipating the play and has a good wrist shot.”
Says Tallon: “He’s really good. His numbers (in junior) were on a par with (Sidney) Crosby. He doesn’t get knocked down and he goes into traffic. He makes everyone around him better.”
Left wing, 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, shoots left. Ranked third in North America by Central Scouting and fifth by ISS.
He turned 18 in May, which puts him a year behind many prospects, but impressed enough against his peers from midseason forward to move up in the rankings. Tabbed as a two-way forward.
VanRiemsdyk, from Middletown, N.J., scored 33 goals and had 63 points for the U.S. Under-18 squad this season, with 12 points in seven games at the U-18 tournament in the Czech Republic. Regardless of which team drafts him, vanRiemsdyk plans to go to the University of New Hampshire in the fall.
From the NHL scouting report: “Power forward with great physical presence and ability to protect the puck. ... Shows good stickhandling skill. ... Is a good skater with great acceleration. ... Does not give up on the play and has an impressive work ethic. ... Can play in all situations and has a hard shot.”
Says Tallon: “He’s a big, powerful kid. He can skate and shoot, and plays pretty well with the game on the line.”
Center, 6-foot, 170 pounds, shoots right. Ranked first in North America by Central Scouting and fourth by ISS.
He’s skinny and played in Tier 2 in the British Columbia League, so the major question is how well Turris would stand up to major junior competition, much less the NHL. Still, scoring 66 goals for Burnaby and a standout performance in a tournament in Saskatchewan brought Turris notice.
Philadelphia, picking second in the draft, is said to be extremely interested, which gives the Hawks a potential option of flipping picks with the Flyers and getting another player while still picking between Kane and vanRiemsdyk. Turris plans to go to Wisconsin in the fall.
From the NHL scouting report: “Skilled forward with great playmaking ability. ... Has an accurate shot with a quick release. ... A fluid skater who has a nose for the net and an ability to control the flow of the game. ... Not afraid of taking a hit and can perform under pressure. ... Has good on-ice awareness and a good work ethic.”
Says Tallon: “He’s from Tier 2, because he wanted to go to college, but he has terrific numbers. On the Under-18 team, he wasn’t as dominant. He’s not real big yet.”
The skinny: The Hawks should pick Kane, who can play right away. He’ll be aided by head coach Denis Savard, who was also said to be too small to make it in the NHL, in adjusting to the size in the league, and by the presence of fellow teenager Jonathan Toews, last year’s first pick.
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