Blackhawks

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Avalanche have potential to surprise

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Avalanche have potential to surprise

CSN Chicago will unveil a preview each day for every Central Division team leading up to the NHL's season-opener. First up: Colorado Avalanche.

The abrupt resignation of Patrick Roy in August stunned the hockey world, but it may be a blessing in disguise for Colorado. The Avalanche were by far the worst puck possession team in the league last year, controlling only 44.18 percent of the even-strength shot attempts, and also ranked second-to-last in 2014-15 with a 43.25 percentage.

Semyon Varlamov often unfairly took the blame despite the Avalanche owning an even-strength save percentage of 92.76, which ranked slightly above the league average, while facing the second-most shot attempts last season.

Jared Bednar gives the Avalanche a breath of fresh air and brings a style better suited for this group.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

While he doesn't have any head coaching experience in the National Hockey League, Bednar helped the Columbus Blue Jackets' affiliate win a Calder Cup this past season by playing an up-tempo brand of hockey. That perfectly fits this team's identity with core guys like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon, who's a breakout candidate after a strong showing at the World Cup of Hockey.

Factor in the addition of Mikko Rantanen, their No. 10 overall draft pick in 2015, and versatile forward Joe Colborne, who set career highs in goals (19), assists (25) and points (44) last season with the Calgary Flames, and the Avalanche have a sneaky-good forward group.

It also means the Avalanche have the potential to spend significantly less time in their own zone and alleviate some pressure off a blue line that didn't get better, but didn't get worse with the free-agent signings of depth players Patrick Wiercioch and Fedor Tyutin. 

The Avalanche were five points shy of clinching the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference a year ago, so it's certainly not out of the question that they can become a sleeper team in this division.

GM Stan Bowman: Blackhawks 'unlikely' to trade out of No. 3 overall spot

stan_bowman_ap.jpg
AP

GM Stan Bowman: Blackhawks 'unlikely' to trade out of No. 3 overall spot

The 2019 NHL Draft is 48 hours away from now and the Blackhawks are slated to pick third overall for the first time since 2006 when they took Jonathan Toews. Coincidentally, that draft happened to be in Vancouver. 

The Blackhawks are sitting in a unique spot this time around.

The consensus is that Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko will go first and second overall, respectively, which essentially puts the Blackhawks in a position where they have the first overall pick in a different draft. There's a large group of players to choose from and there doesn't appear to be much separation amongst them.

So would the Blackhawks consider trading out of the No. 3 spot if a team wants to make the jump and the Blackhawks feel good about their player being on the board a few picks back?

"That’s a tough question to answer because it's not like we have a magic formula that we’re waiting for some to call and offer us," GM Stan Bowman said on Wednesday during his pre-draft conference call. "If somebody made a really appealing offer then we’d have to consider it, but that hasn’t happened yet. If it does, then as a group we’ll talk about it. That’s one of those things where a team has to want to put together a really appealing package to move up. It’s happened before, pretty rare though. So I wouldn't say it's out of the realm, but it’s unlikely to happen."

All signs point to the Blackhawks keeping their pick at No. 3, as expected. And it sounds like they already know who it's going to be, which isn't surprising considering the Blackhawks have done extensive research on the prospects — both on and off the ice — for months now.

The Blackhawks staff met on Wednesday a group, they'll meet again on Thursday, and then one more time on Friday before the draft to finalize their list. At this point, it's more about ironing out the later rounds.

"It’s more just fine-tuning the list," Bowman said. "We have more than just one pick in the draft. We’re looking at players we think are going to be around in the second round, and then we don’t have a third-round pick right now so there’s a bit of a gap there between our 43rd and then the two picks in the fourth round. So we have to look at that and determine which players we’re going to target for those rounds. I wouldn’t say there’s anything new that's being discovered at this time of year.

"We’re not going to be cramming last minute. I think we’re going to be very comfortable with the guy we pick when we get to Friday night."

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2019 NHL Draft Profile: D Bowen Byram

2019 NHL Draft Profile: D Bowen Byram

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.

Bowen Byram

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 193 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

"He's had an outstanding year. Second half of the year he's really been outstanding. He really kind of drew a lot of attention to himself. Well-deserved. He's a dynamic player and he affects the outcome of a game."

Byram describes his own game:

On Duncan Keith comparisons: "I would say that’s pretty accurate. He’s a really energetic guy, good on both sides of the puck, kills penalties, runs the power play. That’s kind of how I’d describe myself, for sure. That’s definitely a fair comparison."

NHL player comparable: Duncan Keith

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks have used their last three first-round picks on defensemen, but positional needs aren't a priority when you're drafting this high — although, in the grand scheme of things, it's a pressing need despite the overflow of defensemen in the pipeline. TSN's Craig Button has said multiple times on the Hawks Talk Podcast that Byram is a future No. 1 defenseman in the NHL, and he would immediately become the top prospect in the organization.

Byram, known for his swagger and two-way game, has drawn comparisons to Drew Doughty and Keith, both of whom have won a Norris Trophy — Keith has two. More importantly, Doughty and Keith also have their names on the Stanley Cup multiple times and were both driving forces during those title runs. These are the types of defensemen you win championships with.

Byram set records in the Western Hockey League as a 17-year-old, and he could probably step into the pros immediately. But that's asking a lot for a defenseman, so he'd be more likely to become an everyday NHL player starting in 2020-21.

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