While there are still some who would argue that Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko should be selected first overall over American center Jack Hughes, the vast majority see Hughes going No. 1 to the New Jersey Devils and Kakko going No. 2 to the New York Rangers and everyone agrees that the pair will be the first two picks in whatever order. As such, the first real question of the 2019 NHL Draft comes with pick No. 3. The Chicago Blackhawks were the big winners of the NHL Draft Lottery this year, moving up from No. 12 to win the third overall pick. However, without an obvious option at that slot, Chicago’s decision could dictate much of the early first round.
In all likelihood, GM Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks will hold on to their pick and add an elite prospect to the pipeline, but which one? The recent NHL Scouting Combine did not provide many hints, as the team spoke multiple times with most of the top prospects in the draft class. Forwards Alex Turcotte, Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, and Peyton Krebs and defenseman Bowen Byram all met with Chicago several times over the week and could all be in contention at No. 3.
Turcotte will likely be the fan-favorite pick for the Blackhawks faithful. An Illinois native and lifelong Chicago fan, Turcotte has drawn comparisons to both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Despite an injury-ridden season, Turcotte impressed when able and may be the most well-rounded forward in the draft class. It’s hard to find many holes in the talented center’s game and he’ll only improve after a year at the University of Wisconsin. In many ways, Turcotte is a bust-proof pick who is sure to be a good NHLer one day.
Yet, Turcotte may not be the best player available at No. 3. Most top scouting services are split between he and the defenseman Byram as the third ranked prospect. Byram is an incredible skater and is unmatched in this draft class in his ability to lead the rush and move the puck. Smart, skilled, and poised, Byram has the makings of a first pair defenseman. The only problem is that the Blackhawks used both of their first-round pick in 2018 on defenders – Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin – and a first- and second-round selection at the position in 2017 – Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell. Chicago is well-stocked on the blue line and may be hesitant to take another defenseman, regardless of his talent level.
Of course, just because most scouts say it should be either Turcotte or Byram at No. 3, doesn’t mean the Blackhawks staff agrees. Cozens and Dach are bigger, stronger centers who, unlike Turcotte, could step in and play in the NHL right away next year if asked. Cozens is an athletic, hard-working player who could be an elite goal scorer at the pro level. Dach is dangerous at the center position, using space well, creating offense, and also playing a physical, two-way game. There’s also a chance that the Blackhawks could go off the board and take a player like Krebs, who they clearly have some interest in, undersized sniper Cole Caufield, who draws comparisons to budding Chicago star Alex DeBrincat, or skilled Russian project Vasili Podkolzin, who could be an offensive force in a few years.
Then there’s also the possibility that the Blackhawks could move the pick. Just because Bowman and company got lucky in the lottery doesn’t mean that they won’t entertain offers for No. 3. In such a deep draft, Chicago could move back to recoup another pick or prospect, and still land a promising prospect with their new pick. If a defense-needy team like the Los Angeles Kings (No. 5), Detroit Red Wings (No. 6), or Anaheim Ducks (No. 9) want to make sure they can get Byram, the Blackhawks could net a nice return and not have to move back too far. Other teams may also be dead-set one of the drafts top centers, while Chicago may not be as sold on one versus the other and could be willing to move back to still get a player they really like. It’s not often that NHL teams, especially ones in a top position, trade back, but the Blackhawks are in a unique position to do just that.
What do you think? What will Chicago do with the third overall pick?