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Blackhawks Sun Jun 28 2009

Draft Day Recap

Entering this past season, one of the Blackhawks' main weaknesses was up the middle in the center position. While Dave Bolland grew into a solid two-way center during the year (and was rewarded with a five-year, $18 million contract extension that should be signed soon), that weakness is still a factor throughout the team's minor-league system.

It came as no surprise then that the Hawks took advantage of this weekend's NHL draft in Montreal to restock their organizational depth, with six of their eight picks being players with center experience. Another area of concern was defense, which made up the remaining two picks, including first-round pick (#28 overall) Dylan Olsen from Camrose in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. A full list of draftees can be found after the break.

The NHL's draft system is similar to baseball, in which a very rare few picks make the team, let alone make an impact in their first year -- stars like the Hawks' Patrick Kane or Sidney Crosby being the exception. The majority of the picks are teenagers who will be given time to grow and develop as players, either as players within a college program or working their way up through the minor-league ranks in hopes of making the NHL.

Olsen's a case in point. He's a large, tough defenseman who measures 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, but as an 18-year-old who's played in the lowest level of Canadian minor leagues, he would have a tough time adjusting while still developing into his body and his play. Olsen's slated to attend Minnesota-Duluth this year, but with his size and ability he's the kind of player the Hawks need to bolster their blue line in a few years if he continues to grow as expected.

Chicago Blackhawks 2009 draft picks

First Round: Dylan Olsen, D, Camrose Kodiaks (28th overall)
Second Round: Brandon Pirri, C, Georgetown Raiders (59th overall)
Third Round: Daniel DeLisle, C/LW, Totino-Grace High School (89th overall)
Fourth Round: Byron Froese, C, Everett Silvertips (119th overall)
Fifth Round: Marcus Kruger, C, Djurgarden/Djurgarden Jr., Sweden (149th overall)
Sixth Round: David Pacan, C, Cumberland Grads (177th overall)
Seventh Round: Paul Phillips, D, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (195th overall)
Seventh Round: David Gilbert, C, Quebec Remparts (209th overall)

So how does the draft class rate? Based on filling needs, the Hawks did what they needed to do, but the true grade will come as these players mature. With a number of low round picks, the Blackhawks are just hoping their scouting reports return the dividend of a few NHL-caliber players, let alone stars. But the difference between good teams and bad can often come down to their draft-day capabilities. It's easy to select a player like Kane or Jonathon Toews when you have a top-5 pick. But if the team wants to move past the Red Wings, they need to find a way to emulate them, as Detroit's draft skill is a major reason the team has been a winner the past 15 years despite picking at the bottom of each round.

Improving the team for next season will begin Wednesday, with the opening of free agency. Chicago's looking to re-sign their major unrestricted free agent in Martin Havlat, and while Nicolai Khabibulin is also unrestricted, there's very little chance of him being a Blackhawk next season. The Hawks will also be looking to add a center or re-sign Sami Pahlsson, as well as match offers made to restricted free agents as necessary. A strong, defensive-minded D-man would also be a bonus for a team that was soft along the blueline. Given the team's phenomenal success last season and young corps, the biggest issue will be filling needs while keeping enough money available to sign a number of key players next season, including Kane, Toews and Duncan Keith.

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