As General Manager Stan Bowman, Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks brass headed to the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida, it was no secret that Blackhawks upper management were about to have not only a busy draft, but a busy summer as well.
Tight against the salary cap, the assumption was players like Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell would be moved at the draft. After all, the Blackhawks needed to get back into the first round of the draft after trading away their pick at the trade deadline to the Arizona Coyotes for Antoine Vermette. Those moves never came and, for the first time since 1996, the Blackhawks came out of the first round empty-handed.
That does not mean there were no players of value to be had. It was evident as the draft progressed that Bowman aimed to give the prospect pipeline some much-needed size, with the wing and defense being the primary targets. With an already deep roster, the Blackhawks have the benefit of allowing their seven selections in the 2015 NHL Draft time to develop with their respective hockey clubs.
Without a first-round pick, it was quite evident Bowman needed to make things count with the 54th overall selection. There were some intriguing names still on the board, including defenseman Oliver Kylington (CGY) and winger Jeremy Bracco (TOR). It became evident, however, that Graham Knott was the player the Blackhawks brass desired.
The left side lacks a big, power winger who can mix size with skill, but Knott brings that element to the Blackhawks pipeline. At nearly 6’4, he is already one of the bigger wingers in the system, but Knott, who says he models his game after New Jersey Devils forward Adam Henrique, knows there is more to his game than just his height.
“I think I’m a two-way forward,” said Knott during his post-draft interview. “I’m good in my own zone, can chip in on the offense and throw my weight around a little bit.”
In 59 games with the Niagara IceDogs during the 2014-15 season, Knott totaled 25 goals and 18 assists. His 43 points would be good for eighth on the team in points. His big reach and decent shot make him an offensive threat, but he has the tools to be a useful player at both ends of the ice. The skill is certainly there, but it will take some time for Knott to bring everything together.
It appears the plan for the 18-year-old winger is to spend the 2015-16 season with the IceDogs and work on his overall game. When it comes to areas to improve on, Knott is aware that the hard work has only just begun.
“Definitely everything,” Knott said, regarding what he aims to improve. “My skills, get bigger, stronger. Hopeful that can give me the shot of making the team.”
It will take some time for Knott to develop an NHL-ready game, but he has already looked comfortable with the Blackhawks organization during the team’s July prospect camp. Knott has all the tools of a bruising, versatile winger who can certainly provide some offense. It is now up to him to put it all together.
“It’s going to be a long journey,” Knott said, “but I’m ready for it.”
Knott met with the media at the NHL Draft following his selection by the Blackhawks, with his comments being included in this Hockey’s Future video.
For defender Dennis Gilbert, whom the Blackhawks selected in the third round, it makes sense that his road to the NHL leads to Chicago. He has skated with star winger Patrick Kane in the offseason, played the 2014-15 season with the USHL’s Chicago Steel (alongside fellow Blackhawks prospect Fredrik Olofsson) and is committed to play with the University of Notre Dame this coming fall, where the Blackhawks will hold their training camp for the second year.
Gilbert was clearly happy to be selected by the defending Stanley Cup champions, calling the Blackhawks “a dynasty” and “a great organization with a lot of young talent.” He will join a slew of other prospects developing at the collegiate level and follow in the Fighting Irish footsteps of former prospect Stephen Johns (DAL) and current prospect Vincent Hinostroza. It appears the 18-year-old defenseman is ready for the challenge college hockey has to offer.
“The competition is second to none,” Gilbert said. “It definitely makes the jump (to pro hockey) a lot easier.”
Gilbert, who thinks of himself as a “puck mover,” has the smarts and skill to make an efficient second or third-pairing defenseman. With 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) in 59 games for the Steel, his poise and instincts made Gilbert a reliable part of the blueline. While Gilbert needs to continue to work on his skating and getting stronger, he could become another prospect for Chicago to excel at the collegiate level and beyond.
Gilbert took part in the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine in his hometown of Buffalo, NY prior to the 2015 NHL Draft. He met with the media following his testing session, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.
Ryan Shea, D, Boston College High School (Massachusetts High School)
4th round, 121st overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 175 lbs
While the Blackhawks were praised for their potential hidden-gem pick in the fifth round (more on that in a bit), there is reason to believe their selection of Ryan Shea in the fourth round had just as much to like.
Despite being a defenseman, Shea has no problem leading the charge offensively. A smooth, mobile skater with exceptional vision, Shea often shows poise on the attack. His playmaking ability helped him earn six goals and 29 assists in just 22 games as captain of Boston College High School.
Shea’s hard shot, crisp passing and fluid skating are notable strengths, but he has often been questioned regarding his defensive game. He’ll need to work on this aspect of his game with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL next season before heading to Northeastern University in 2016-17. There’s reason to believe the Blackhawks may have the type of offensive defenseman they once had in Nick Leddy, and if Shea can work on the consistency issues he faces in his own zone, the reward could be even better.