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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2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 3 win over Canucks

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 3 win over Canucks

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, NBC Sports Chicago is re-airing each of the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins from the run that ended a 49-year championship drought. You can join the conversation using #HawksRewind on social media.

After bouncing back with a 4-2 in Game 2, the Blackhawks regained home-ice advantage by routing the Canucks 5-2 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals. Here are three things we noticed in the win:

1. Dustin Byfuglien's coming out party

One of the greatest coaching decisions of Joel Quenneville's illustrious career is moving Byfuglien from defense to forward in the middle of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run. In a recent sit-down interview with NBC Sports Chicago, Quenneville sheepishly admitted he can't take all the credit for that because different coaches experimented with Byfuglien at forward while he was working his way to the pros.

But it was certainly a playoff-changing moment.

After going pointless in his first eight postseason contests, Byfuglien netted a hat trick while playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and was an absolute pest as the net-front guy on the first power-play unit. He finished with six shots on goal and a game-high six hits in 15:53 of ice time.

"He is a handful in front of the net or for goalies," Quenneville said. "He brought that element, that versatility, you could use him in either situation and of course in the middle of the game, so I think he brought a unique aspect to our team."

2. Lack of discipline

In the playoffs, officials tend to swallow their whistles and let the players play. But this game was not one of them.

In the first period alone, the Blackhawks and Canucks combined for eight minor penalties; each team was penalized four times. Hooking. Tripping. Too many men. Roughing. Interference. You name it. 

The Blackhawks cleaned up their act in the final two periods, committing only one minor penalty the rest of the game. That wasn't the case for the Canucks, who racked up 36 total penalty minutes. A lack of discipline was evident for both teams, but one team took advantage and the other did not, which leads us to our final bullet point...

3. Penalty kill remains on fire

Speaking of special teams, the Blackhawks won that department and it's the primary reason they came away with a victory in Game 3. In fact, it seemed like all series long, whichever team won the special teams battle often won the game.

The Blackhawks scored two of their five goals on the power play in this game and could've been credited with a third but the penalty had just expired before Kris Versteeg scored goal an even-strength goal. But more importantly, they went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill to continue a ridiculous postseason streak.

After another perfect performance, the Blackhawks improved to 38-for-41 on the penalty kill through their first nine contests for a percentage of 92.7. The Blackhawks had also scored two shorthanded goals to that point, so their postseason goal differential shorthanded was only minus-1. Just an incredible stat.

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Blackhawks release Jim Cornelison-assisted video promoting the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund

Blackhawks release Jim Cornelison-assisted video promoting the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund

The Blackhawks announced on March 18th, that they are launching a donation-matching initiative with the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. They promoted the initiative with a video launched on social media, where Jim Cornelison sings the national anthem over black-and-white shots of Chicago imploring Chicagoans to "Joins us and stand up for Chicago."

The Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund seeks to "rapidly deploy resources to local nonprofit organizations serving the most vulnerable residents in the Chicago region as a result of the public health, social and economic consequences of COVID-19." Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews recently donated $100,000 to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund through the Jonathan Toews Foundation.