Blackhawks

The Bowen Byram debate: Could the Blackhawks take another defenseman at No. 3?

The Bowen Byram debate: Could the Blackhawks take another defenseman at No. 3?

The Blackhawks have been consistent in their draft approach over the years: Don't prioritize an organizational need or a player who may be the most NHL ready. Select the prospect who has the highest ceiling and best chance at making an impact in the long term, no matter where they're at in their development.

Which brings us to a topic that is heating up around Chicago: Should the Blackhawks consider taking a defenseman at No. 3? And by that we mean standout 17-year-old Bowen Byram.

We know what you’re thinking: Another defenseman? After using the past three first-rounders (Henri Jokiharju, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin) and a second-rounder (Ian Mitchell) on defensemen? Really?

Yes, really.

In his latest NHL mock draft, TSN’s Director of Scouting Craig Button didn't waver on Byram going to the Blackhawks at No. 3. Button, who joined the Hawks Talk Podcast in April, called Byram as close to a No. 1 defenseman as there is and raved about his ability to make an impact on the game in every facet.

That's tempting for the Blackhawks because, while there's certainly a surplus of young defensemen in the organization, they could knock out two birds with one stone in drafting the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Byram because he might be the best available player while also filling an immediate NHL need who could become their next franchise-changing two-way defenseman.

"I'll tell you this: He's the best defenseman in the draft," Button said. "When I talk about Bowen, no question in my mind he's a top pair defenseman and very well could be, should be and probably will project him as a No. 1. I don't project very many defensemen as clear-cut No. 1s and Bowen Byram is clearly moving in that direction. He controls the game in every single regard: defensively, neutral zone, offense, with the puck, without the puck, skating, shooting.

"Scott Niedermayer had 26 goals in his draft year; that's how many Bowen Byram had. I am not suggesting he is Scott Niedermayer, but his ability to command the game in so many different ways and to play big minutes, effortlessly cause his skating is so good and his mind is so free and he's so smart and so in tune to what's going on, and a big-time competitor, Bowen Byram to me could fit the needs right in. And I don't know where you find No. 1 defensemen. I don't know where you find them. We can talk about drafting defensemen and using their picks on the defensemen, I don't think any of the guys they've drafted are No. 1 defenseman. Bowen Byram, to me, I guess I gotta take a stand here: I think he can be a No. 1 defenseman."

Byram ranked third among WHL defensemen this season with 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in 67 games, and is tied for the league lead in playoff scoring with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 21 games for the Vancouver Giants. He does it all and is doing so in high leverage situations, too.

If the Blackhawks are convinced Byram is separating himself as the top player available at No. 3, you take him and figure out the rest later. Having a collection of young, high-end defensemen has never been a bad thing.

It doesn’t sound like anything is off the table for the Blackhawks and their track record proves that.

"We talk about it, but everything is on the board at 3," Blackhawks Vice President of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley said on the Hawks Talk Podcast. "If you look back to the past two drafts, I don't think we went in there [2017] saying, 'We're gonna draft a defenseman with our first pick and a defenseman with our second pick,' and certainly that happened with Henri and then with Ian.

"And then last year going in, Stan and I talked and we said ideally we'd like to come out of the first round with a forward and a defenseman, but as it plays out and the hand is dealt, you have to play the hand that's there. And really we're looking for the best available player regardless of position, the one that could have the biggest impact for us."

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Blackhawks acquire Olli Maatta, send Dominik Kahun to Penguins

Blackhawks acquire Olli Maatta, send Dominik Kahun to Penguins

One of the Blackhawks’ priorities this summer is to add pieces that will help shore up the defensive part of their game after they gave up the second-most goals in the NHL last season. And they didn’t waste much time doing it.

Less than a week before the 2019 NHL Draft, the Blackhawks announced Saturday that they have acquired defenseman Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Maatta is 24 years old, carries a left-handed shot and is a two-time Stanley Cup champion. But he battled injuries last season and fell out of favor in Pittsburgh, where he was a healthy scratch for three games in the first round of the playoffs.

The Blackhawks are hoping a fresh start could help Maatta find his game again, and do it in a place that may better utilize his skill-set. Where he could help is in the defensive part. 

According to The Point, Maatta ranked 9th among defensemen in blocked shots per game (2.05), 26th in defensive zone puck battles won (2.45), 40th in blocked defense zone passes (3.77) and 47th in outlet passes (8.95). 

Maatta, who was taken in the first round (No. 22 overall) in 2012, had 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 60 games last season. His best year came in 2017-18 when he tallied 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 82 games. He has three years remaining on his deal that carries a $4.083 million cap hit.

It’s worth noting that when Maatta signing his extension with Pittsburgh on Feb. 26, 2016, the contract included a modified no-trade clause in his final two years, according to Cap Friendly. The Blackhawks will have the option to either honor that clause or nullify it.

The Blackhawks are expected to have some heavy competition among the forwards at training camp with the signings of Dominik Kubalik and Anton Wedin. That likely made Kahun expendable despite a rookie season in which he compiled 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 82 games.

2019 NHL Draft Profile: RW Kaapo Kakko

2019 NHL Draft Profile: RW Kaapo Kakko

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Kaapo Kakko

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 194 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from The Draft Analyst's Steve Kournianos:

"Multi-tooled winger with size and coordination who incorporates his impressive puck skills with a desirable physical package that consistently exhausts opponents. Blessed with incredibly soft hands and tight-quarter quickness, Kakko is a reliable stickhandler who uses timing plays to either get open or create space for his linemates.”

NHL player comparable: Mikko Rantanen

Fit for Blackhawks:

Alright, let’s get this out of the way with: Kakko isn’t going to be on the board when the Blackhawks pick at No. 3. He’s expected to be taken second overall by the New York Rangers.

But, hypothetically, if he did slip, Kakko is probably one of two players in this draft class who could step onto an NHL roster today and make an immediate impact. He’s that good, and we saw it at the 2019 IIHF World Championship when he scored six goals to lead Finland to a gold medal. 

Kakko would give the Blackhawks a dynamic winger on the right side to go along with Patrick Kane, meaning they wouldn't have to worry about their top-six right wingers for many years to come. You shouldn't draft a winger this high unless he's as close to a sure-fire prospect as they come, and Kakko would qualify.

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